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Posted by on Mar 3, 2010 in Economy, Politics | 12 comments

Running Against Success in Texas (Good Luck With That)

There’s lots of commentary out this morning about incumbent Rick Perry’s win over Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Texas GOP gubernatorial primary.

The general take-away seems to be that Governor Perry benefited from (as Jonathan Martin puts it at the Politico) “an anti-Washington message in an already volatile political environment”.

Considering the overwhelming wins yesterday by the incumbent congressional representatives, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But it must be true, cuz nearly everybody’s saying so.
The Wall Street Journal:

DALLAS—Texas Gov. Rick Perry rode a wave of anti-Washington sentiment to victory Tuesday in the hard-fought Republican gubernatorial primary, beating U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The Houston Chronicle:

What Hutchison didn’t realize this time a year ago was that her fate may well have been sealed by Tax Day, April 15, 2009, when Perry spoke at tea party rallies in Houston, Dallas and Austin and suggested — merely suggested — that Texas might have reason to secede from the union. He never mentioned the word “secession,” but there was no mistaking his drift.

Signaling his sympathy with the wave of anti-Washington, anti-Obama animus sweeping Texas and the country — animus fueled by the tea partiers — Perry effectively tagged his fellow Republican as a creature of Washington after her 16 years in the Senate. She never recovered from the anti-Washington barrage. And she knew it.

I really don’t think so, folks.

I’m no fan of Rick Perry (known disparagingly by many as “Governor Goodhair” or even “Mr. Secession”), but I think the problem Kay Bailey Hutchison had in the primary is exactly the same problem Democratic candidate Bill White will face in the general: It’s really really hard to argue against success — even when that success is more perception than reality.

Fellow Texan Melissa Clouthier gives a great example of this (my emphasis):

It should not also be ignored that Texas is humming along economically. By Texas standards, the economy isn’t wonderful, but it’s doing so much better than the rest of the nation, citizens are wanting to keep a good thing going. Who can blame them?

Yup! Much better! In fact, I seriously don’t know a single person who, if asked how Texas is doing in the face of the recession, wouldn’t answer, “We’re doing better than everybody else!”

And if we were a nation of 30 or 35 states, “everybody” would be correct — but when Texas’ unemployment ranks 33rd out of 50? Or when foreclosures rank 28th? Not so much.

Yet everybody knows that Texas is doing much better… and perceptions matter. No, we’re not doing “the best”, but even allowing for some spin, the view from here is pretty good.

Therefore, I think that Rick Perry’s victory yesterday over Kay Bailey Hutchison hinged enormously on the fact that he’s who occupies the Governor’s chair currently. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his politics is nearly irrelevant, because he’s holding the biggest ace of all: perceived success while the rest of the country struggles.

So what’s Bill White got that will trump that?

White told supporters in Houston he expects Perry to try to “perpetuate” himself with politics of division and distraction to avoid talking about Texas issues, such as high unemployment, state government growth and unfunded mandates for local governments.

Looks to me like he’s got pretty much what Kay Bailey had. Good luck with that.