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Again in ’10?

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Last week I met a lobbyist, a close friend of Governor Rick Perry’s, for lunch. As it happened, I pulled into a parking place right behind his truck. In a nanosecond, I lost my appetite. There on his bumper sticker was an “R,” styled to represent a brand, with wavy lines above it, and the slogan, “Again in ’10.” Is Rick Perry really going to run for a fourth term (actually, third-and-a-half) as governor? Say it ain’t so. The talk that he might do it started soon after he won in 2006. Most folkxs wrote it off then as an effort to spike the idea that he was a lame duck. Perry was practically invisible during the legislative session after he suffered two early setbacks—the bill that overturned his executive order to mandate the HPV vaccine for girls and the chilly reception of his higher education initiatives. Late in the session he fought efforts to rein in the Trans-Texas Corridor, vetoing the moratorium bill and agreeing to a compromise on its successor. Otherwise, Perry’s approach to the Legislature is much like Ann Richards’ was. Like Richards, Perry doesn’t care much about the Legislature (who can blame him?); he cares about his appointments and setting policy in the executive branch, something he does to a greater extent than any governor in memory. Early speculation was that Perry wouldn’t run again because Anita Perry didn’t want him to. But some time last summer my lobbyist friend told me that the situation had changed and the First Lady was on board. Meanwhile, Perry’s fabled good luck kicked in; Governor Matt Blunt of Missouri, the vice-chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, decided to concentrate on his own reelection, allowing Perry to take over as chairman. This gave Perry a national platform, which he used to less than good advantage in endorsing Rudy Giuliani for president. After Giuliani left the race, Perry endorsed John McCain. There is continuing talk that Perry might be angling for a place on the national ticket in 2008 or 2012, to which Perry always responds that he has no interest in going to Washington. Can Perry win another term after getting only 39% of the vote in 2006? When I said last fall at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association that I didn’t think that Perry could face the voters again, Mike Baselice, Perry’s pollster, disagreed, saying that Perry’s numbers were strong enough to get him reelected. I don’t have any hard evidence to the contrary, other than what I’ve heard, which is that Perry’s approval rating is around 38%. The possibility continues to linger, as it has since 2002, that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will run for governor one of these days. I believe that if Hutchison ran against Perry in the Republican primary, she would beat him somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-40. The Perry folks knew they were dead if she ran in ’06, but they also told me, flat out, that she wouldn’t do it—and she didn’t. I wrote about Hutchison’s hesitancy last fall, following a newspaper interview in which she said she might go into private business, parts of which she quoted back to me, NOT approvingly, when I interviewed her in Washington in September. Later in the fall, I saw her at the LBJ Library and she arranged her hands so that the left one was on an invisible Bible and the right was in the swearing-in position, and she said, “When I’m doing this, I want you on the front row.” It’s hard to remain a skeptic after this demonstration, but I’m up to it. I have heard reports that she is concerned about Houston Mayor Bill White’s possible candidacy, as she should be. But if Hutchison truly intends to run, the best thing for her to do would be to make her intentions known ASAP. Otherwise, Perry will continue to raise money and grow stronger, and the doubts about Hutchison will linger.

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