Location: United States

Monday, January 09, 2006

Lone Star Swing

For those of you who haven't been following the Texas gubernatorial gymnastics competition prelimaries, hold onto your hats. This is starting to look like FUN!

First, you have the incumbent - Rick Perry. Perry doesn't exactly have a pack of rabid fans waiting to carry him to victory. What he does have is a lock on the rabid Christian right in Texas. Of course, it's just a shell he wears so he can better shill for his real supporters - by closing off access to health care for poor children, being totally inept in leading the state legislature to revamp school finances, and boosting taxes on poor people. He also racked up a record of vetoing some very desirable bills.

Looking around at the near-total dominance of the Republican Party in Texas, mystery-writer Kinky Friedman jumped into the race as an independent - his slogan of "Why the Hell Not?" and choice of "fuscia" as his campaign color designed to show that this was not a "business as usual" kind of guy. Kinky's dilemna? To get people interested enough that they pay attention to politics, but still manage to convince them not to vote in the primary. Under Texas law, Kinky has to get several thousand registered voters to sign his independent candidate petition AFTER the party primaries, but sufficiently ahead of the general election to get his name on the ballot. Oh yeah, if these people vote in the primary, they can't sign his petition. Expect heavy court cases if he even comes close.

Then there is Carole Keeton Strayhorn - whose reference to herself as "One Tough Grandma" tends to make some remember the last woman who held the Governorship of Texas. However, Strayhorn is much more a blatant opportunist. She first held public office as a Democrat. She burned that bridge when she jumped into the Republican Party so she could hold a state-level office. A few months ago, she declared that she would challenge Goodhair Perry for the Republican nomination. After it became clear even to her faltering eyesight how distant of a longshot that was, she burned that bridge and declared as an independent. (So, when you see Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan duckin' and weavin', remember that he apparently learned that at home - he is Strayhorn's non-twin son.)

Meanwhile, Chris Bell - the one-term Democratic Congressman who was redistricted out of his seat by Tom DeLay (and who filed ethics charges against DeLay, thereby ending the "ethics truce" in Washington) - has declared he will seek the Democratic nomination.

It leaves an interesting dynamic. During the last election, Perry pulled in 2.6 million votes, versus 1.8 million for the Democratic challenger. In 2006, John Kerry managed to turn out more votes in Texas than Rick Perry (Note: Bush turned out even more than either - which explains why he's still in the White House).

Now, polling is notoriously untrustworthy, so we actually have to have an election to decide this (actually, two elections). Rick Perry's favorability rating is begging for a challenge (his highest level of support is among Republicans - 62% ). For a sitting Governor, that isn't a good sign. Friedman seems to draw somewhat equally from both sides, though Strayhorn's best bet is to cut the Republicans out of his camp. That doesn't help Perry at all. Since Friedman appeals to non-conservative Republicans and Strayhorn appeals to moderates, that means that Perry will have to find enough partisan conservative votes to clear the field. That leaves Bell standing as a potential unity candidate. It's a good position .

What is likely to happen is that Strayhorn may just steal enough signatures that Friedman can't get on the ballot. If she ekes out a ballot position, she hurts Perry. If she doesn't, then she still hurts Perry by making the only choice against him Chris Bell.

Looks like Texas may just be a swing state.


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