There never was any doubt that Bill White was running for governor, and for that matter there wasn’t much doubt that he wanted to run for governor even when he was running for the Senate. Perry is now fighting a two-front war. A general election race against a Democrat will be very different from his primary race against Hutchison. All the issues that he can bring to bear against Hutchison—the TARP bailout vote, her absences from Washington while she is campaigning in Texas, her efforts to bring money to Texas that the Perry campaign disingenuously calls “pork”—don’t have any impact in a general election race against a Democrat. Even his positive message of job creation is one that White will contest, arguing that Perry is taking credit for jobs that were created in Houston during White’s watch. The general election race is going to be reminiscent of Texas governor’s races of old. The Republican nominee will label White a liberal, as John Connally once did to Don Yarborough, and Bill Clements did to John Hill. The Republican nominee will say that White left Houston in a precarious fiscal position, and White can counter that Perry has done the same to Texas, which faces a structural budget deficit. White’s candidacy does inject a new issue into the Republican primary: Whether Perry or Hutchison is the stronger Republican candidate against White. Hutchison should have the opportunity to make the case that she can beat White and Perry can’t, because she is more popular with independents and Republican moderates and conservative Democrats than Perry is. But is that still true? Hutchison has devoted a great deal of effort to trying to prove that she is more conservative than Perry. Why she does not realize that this is a self-defeating effort is something I find inexplicable. There is no way she can get to Perry’s right, and when she tries to do so, she undercuts her appeal to the voters who she has to have on her side if she is going to have any chance to win the primary. I believe that every time her campaign runs that radio ad with Dick Cheney saying how conservative she is, she alienates her core constituency of soccer-mom types.
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