Texas is not typically a battleground state. In fact, Texas has voted reliably for the Republican nominee for president for the last 40 years. The only exception was 1976, when the state went for Jimmy Carter. It is safe to say that control of the governor’s office in Texas has dictated who the state votes for in the presidential elections for the last decade and a half.
With the strong likelihood of a Republican governor being elected in 2010, the 2012 election may not be any different.
In the 2008 presidential election, Texas delivered its 34 electoral votes to John McCain by a substantial margin (55.44% of the total vote). In this year’s “off” elections, there are three major candidates for the Republican nomination for governor: Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and Debra Medina. The last is a newcomer to electoral politics and has just recently been certified to take part in the Republican debates on January 29.
Rick Perry started his political career as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, becoming a Republican in 1989. That same year, the Dallas Morning News named him one of the most effective legislators in the state. Perry became the state’s first ever Republican lieutenant governor in 1998, winning by less than 2%.
He took over as governor when George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 and since then has won election to two full terms as the state’s chief executive. He is currently running for an unprecedented third term, already having occupied the governor’s office longer than any other Texas governor, Republican or Democrat.
Perry’s incumbency has not been without controversy. In 2007, he issued an executive order mandating that school-age girls be vaccinated with Gardasil, a vaccine to combat the human papillomavirus (HPV). He was roundly condemned by many who believed that it would encourage sexual intercourse. Others were upset that Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil, had contributed to Perry’s campaign. Others disagreed and felt that HPV was a significant cause of cervical cancer and should be vaccinated against. Ultimately, the executive order was overturned by the legislature.
Perry has supported the formation of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a highway (I-69) running from Texarkana/Shreveport to Mexico (possibly the Rio Grande Valley via US 281, or Laredo via I-35). The corridor will be part toll road run by private (and foreign) companies in partnership with Texas. However, the feeling against the use of toll roads in Texas is fierce.
Perry has also had many successes while in office. He championed SCHIP and encouraged additional educational funding (although he has also said “no” to the federal government on money for schools), has kept taxes fairly low (though with some increases), and is generally considered to be business friendly despite changes to the franchise tax.
Perry’s victories in 2002 and 2006 were against Democrats who really had little chance against the popular governor. He is largely seen as a conservative and an early supporter of the tea party movement in Texas.
Perry does not, however, have the nomination locked up. He faces challenge from a United States senator and a former county head of the Republican Party.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was initially coy about deciding to run for governor against the popular Perry. She considered running in 2006 but decided that Texas would be better served with her in Washington. The Perry forces state that she was scared off. Kay Bailey, as she is frequently known, is always at the very top of the list of popular political figures in Texas. She believes that this time she will be able to upset Perry. For his part, Perry has promised a battle for the nomination:
Mr. Perry casting her [Hutchinson] as part of the problem in Washington and Ms. Hutchinson labeling him a divisive, ineffective leader in Austin.
“As any person watching the last legislative session could see, it was very contentious and acrimonious,” she said. “Certainly Texas is looking for change in that office.”
Mr. Perry, who has repeatedly said he will seek re-election, fired back through a spokesman by suggesting that the Republican senator has spent too much time outside Texas.
“There hasn’t been much good coming out of Washington — record deficits, bailouts, spending,” said Mark Miner.
Hutchinson has also picked up some very strong endorsements from some rather heavy hitters in Texas Republican circles, including Mr. and Mrs. George H. W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Senator Phil Gramm, and former Dallas Cowboys star quarterback Roger Staubach. Kay Bailey fully intends to upset Rick Perry and consign him to the dust bin of former governors.
Last but by no means least is the most conservative of the bunch, Debra Medina. A Republican Party activist and the former Wharton County Republican Party chair, as well as the former state coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty, Medina is an admitted long shot, but she has seemingly pushed an awful lot of the right buttons with her share of likely voters:
“Medina, the owner of a medical consulting firm, is the only candidate who is gaining ground, up from four percent (4%) of the GOP vote in November and three percent (3%) in September,” said the Rasmussen Reports analysis of the poll. “Some political analysts have said Medina was the strongest performer.
Medina’s numbers are showing an upswing, but whether she can catch the two career politicians depends a lot on whether Perry or Hutchinson stumble in the debates or on the campaign trail. Another question is whether Medina can project the conservative values that attract the typically conservative Texas Republican primary voter. Medina believes that she can.
Regardless of how the race turns out, this year promises to be one of the most interesting Republican primary elections in Texas in a very long time.