White wins Democratic nomination for governor
By R.G. RATCLIFFE
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
March 2, 2010, 8:26PM
AUSTIN — Former Houston Mayor Bill White locked up the Democratic gubernatorial nomination early tonight, but it remains unclear whether the Republican contest will go into a runoff.
Gov. Rick Perry held a substantial lead in early returns over U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and activist Debra Medina. However, the possibility remains that the fight for the GOP gubernatorial nomination will go to an April 13 runoff.
White had been the clear favorite among Democrats since he entered the race late last year after former Ambassador Tom Schieffer dropped out of the contest and Hank Gilbert and Kinky Friedman switched to fighting for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner.
White's only major opponent among the six remaining Democratic candidates was Houston hair products millionaire Farouk Shami, who put at least $8.5 million of his own money into the race. Shami's campaign never caught fire, though.
All the heat in the governor's race was on the Republican side, where Hutchison and Medina were trying to end Perry's winning streak.
A rivalry has existed between Perry and Hutchison since they were first elected to statewide office in 1990 as agriculture commissioner and state treasurer respectively.
Hutchison won a special election to the U.S. Senate in 1993, and has won elections to full terms in the office in 1994, 2000 and 2006. Hutchison has said she will resign before her current terms ends. Hutchison's talk of resignation overshadowed the start of her campaign and made it difficult to develop a message against Perry.
Perry won the lieutenant governor's office in 1998 and then ascended to governor in December 2000 when then-Gov. George W. Bush resigned after winning the presidency. Perry won re-election in 2002 and 2006, but was much criticized after the last election for taking the governor's office back with just 39 percent of the vote.
Hutchison had started the race with a lead of more than 20 percentage points in polls, but then Perry last spring became an advocate of states' rights against the federal government. Perry's anti-federal government rhetoric quickly helped him recapture frontrunner status.
The surprise of the race was Medina, a libertarian Republican who had run for state party chair previously. Having built her campaign by talking to “tea party” and states' rights rallies and with appearances on talk radio, Medina's campaign caught fire after she appeared in statewide televised debates with Perry and Hutchison.
At one point, Medina appeared to be threatening Hutchison's second place spot in the contest. But then she hesitated when a national radio talk show host asked her whether she believed the government was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She later clarified herself to say the attacks were solely the act of Muslim extremists, but she already was being labeled as a conspiracy theorist in many quarters.
White was a three-term mayor of Houston. He previously served as Texas Democratic Party chairman and was a deputy secretary of energy in the Clinton Administration.
White has shown an ability to raise money and was ending the primaries with more than $5.4 million in the bank — almost as much money as 2006 Democratic nominee Chris Bell had for his entire campaign.
White, in an interview last week, said he knows he starts the race at a disadvantage because Perry and Hutchison spent millions of dollars on television advertising in their primary fight.
“So most everybody knows who they are, and I still need to let people know who I am,” White said. “But what I find is when people get to know me I pick up supporters.”
A poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News and other Texas newspapers last month found 65 percent of the registered voters surveyed did not know enough about White to have an opinion of him.
But, despite that lack of familiarity with White, Perry's lead over the former mayor was only 43 percent to 37 percent among likely general election voters, and Hutchison led 42 percent to 34 percent. White was in a statistical tie with Perry and Hutchison among independent voters.
Democratic political consultant Ed Martin said Perry may have been able to use voter discontent to his advantage in the Republican primary, but that same anger will work against Perry in the general election.
“Democrats are looking forward to this race,” Martin said. “We have a proven problem solver who is running against a 20-year incumbent who represents everything people are fed-up with in an anti-incumbent year.”
Martin said White will make the race about issues that are important to voters locally: “This is going to be a race about Texas and what's happened in Texas.”