The Washington Post has a story today that the Democratic Governor’s Association has decided to target Rick Perry. Political reporter Dan Balz, who was stationed in Austin back in the day when newspapers could still afford far-flung bureaus, is in town this week. Balz’s story today says that White and Perry are running “about even” in the Houston area but that Perry holds a “solid lead” in the Dallas area. Dallas County has turned Democratic for the past four years, but the suburban collar counties–Collin, Denton, Rockwall, Kaufman, Ellis–are a Democratic graveyard. I don’t get what the DGA sees in this race, except that things may be so bad for the Democrats in governor’s races that they are looking for longshots to come in. But all of the indicators in this race are bad: * White and Perry are running even in the Houston area. No good. White has to win Houston by a substantial margin in order to win the race. * Any Democratic strategy has to start with carrying Harris and Dallas counties. If White is down in Dallas, that’s as bad as being even in Harris. * The race hasn’t changed much since the March primaries. Perry has polled in the upper forties, White has polled in the lower forties. A few outlier polls show the race as very close (42-41 in one poll, 44-41 in another). * The White campaign and supporting groups like Back to Basics PAC have spent millions of dollars without substantially affecting Perry’s lead. The current media campaign focuses on unpopular actions Perry took years ago: the mandate for sixth grade girls to be vaccinated for cervical cancer, an idea that originated with Mike Toomey, a lobbyist and former chief of staff for Perry; and the Trans-Texas Corridor, a mammoth toll road plan which has been substantially modified from its overly grandiose conception. The outrage about these episodes is three to five years stale. Both were mainstays of the Kay Bailey Hutchison primary challenge to Perry, and he beat her and Debra Medina without a runoff. If the DGA thinks these are the main issues in this campaign, they are fatally out of touch. * Perry’s opponents, going back to Jim Hightower, invariably run bad races. It’s as if their contempt for him creates a self-hypnotic trance. Hutchison’s was the worst race ever. Tony Sanchez blew $60+ million bucks. Chris Bell did more with less than any of them. Perry’s lengthy stay in office presents a target-rich environment, but White hasn’t been able to come up with a theme to exploit Perry’s undistinguished record as governor or the unappealing side of his personality. White’s campaign has been mediocre at best. He is an unappealing TV candidate who seems determined to micromanage his own campaign. * There is a narrative in Washington, encouraged by the Obama White House and David Plouffe in particular, that Texas is on its way to becoming a swing state. On its way, yes. Imminent? No. The change is ever so gradual. The narrative depends upon the growth of the Hispanic vote, but so far it has been molasses-like. Hispanics have not voted in large numbers. Most of the Hispanic vote is reliably Democratic, but if the DGA looks at the Hispanic vote in other Southwestern states and expects Texas Hispanics to perform at that level, returning huge majorities, they are going to be very disappointed. Hispanics in Texas do not have the level of alienation from the mainstream culture that you see in New Mexico/Arizona/Colorado/Nevada/California. There is an emerging middle class to which Republican can appeal. Perry will get at least 30% of the Hispanic vote. Bush got 40% in 2004. It may take at least two more election cycles, maybe three (that’s 2018/2022) before the Democrats hit the jackpot. By that time, maybe the Republicans will have come to their senses about immigration and the Fourteenth Amendment, but I doubt it. * I have said before that Perry is a polarizing politician, but upon reflection, I’m not sure that I’m right. The polarization is incomplete. One Republican consultant told me that in the primary, a lot of voters who didn’t like him ended up voting for him. Maybe that’s because they know what they are going to get. He is nothing if not predictable. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. This is why it is hard for White to exploit his long incumbency. * No matter what you and I may think of Perry as a governor, he is one of the most adroit and intuitive politicians Texas has ever produced. His political instincts are near-infallible. He was the first prominent Republican to sense the power of the Tea Party. His only real weakness is that he fails to keep his arrogance in check. He has effectively nationalized the election by running as if his real opponent were Barack Obama, rather than Bill White. He has run a campaign that is primarily positive, taking occasional shots at White but not blowing him out of the water, as he did Tony Sanchez. I don’t know what the DGA sees that makes it think it can win this race, but I do know that HPV and the Trans-Texas Corridor are not going to turn this election around.
Politics & Policy