Finally we have a poll that can be believed. It was conducted by Opinion Analysts for Texans for Insurance Reform PAC, which is to say the trial lawyers, and was reported on the Houston Chronicle Web site. The results: Perry 41%, Strayhorn 14%, Bell and Friedman 13% each, and 20% undecided. I wrote recently that Strayhorn’s biggest problem is that she alone of the contenders doesn’t have a natural constituency. Looks like I was wrong. Bell and Friedman don’t have much of a constituency either. It’s a good thing “None of the Above” isn’t on the ballot or we might not have a governor for the next four years. Come to think of it, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.

The (wishful) thinking of the Strayhorn and Bell camps has been that Friedman’s support will collapse as election day approaches, allowing one of them to assume the mantle of the main challenger to Perry. That was a reasonable hope when Friedman was polling at around 20%. But when he is only at 13%, a collapse into single digits won’t free up a lot of votes for the vultures to feed on.

The problem Friedman faces is deciding whether he is better off running like a politician or running like an anti-politician. This week he decided to be a politician, issuing a four-point plan on the border (he would send 10,000 National Guard troops to the Rio Grande), rising property tax appraisals (he would impose a 3% cap on increases), the new business tax (he would repeal it), and growth of the state budget (he would control it with a complicated formula). I suppose I could debate the merits of these ideas, but I’m more inclined to wonder whether this is the best way for Kinky to run. He won his cadre of supporters with iconoclastic lines like, “How hard can it be?” and “Why the hell not?” Is he more likely to win or lose votes by sounding like everybody else in the race? Lose votes, I would say. All of a sudden, he’s running at Perry from the right: more troops, less spending, even a promise to sign a bill that would instantly outlaw abortions in Texas if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

It’s never easy to tell whether Kinky is serious or ironic, but when stories appear in the newspaper about what he says, they make him sound serious. He would do better to parody Perry: Oh, so the governor wants to send 1,500 troops to the border? Why not more? I’ll see his 1.500 and raise him 8,500. I have seen Kinky serious and I’ve seen him funny, and he is a lot better when he is funny.

This leads to another question: If Bell and Strayhorn are desperately hoping for Kinky to collapse as a precondition for their being able to narrow the gap with Perry, then why did the Perry campaign attack Kinky on the border issue? I can understand why the Bell folks called Kinky a “cokehead”–but why would Perry spokesman Robert Black take a shot at Kinky? (“Border security is far too serious for Texans to take Kinky seriously.”) Uh, Robert, you WANT Texans to take Kinky seriously. Every vote for Kinky is a vote Bell and Strayhorn can’t get.

This is one crazy race.