Feeding frenzy seen for GOP's 2006 primary
Web Posted: 02/17/2005 12:00 AM CST
Chief, Express-News Austin Bureau
AUSTIN � When a tiny goldfish survived a "live feed"
to serve as companion instead of dinner to the big
fish in her office aquarium, Comptroller Carole Keeton
Strayhorn was charmed.
She figured the larger fish, a toothed Oscar that had
been swimming solo, was enjoying the company.
"The little fish for several months kept getting
closer and closer. I thought, you know, they've really
become pals," she said.
Then one day, the big fish simply ate the little one.
"I said, well, it just goes to show you, never turn
your back on what's going on over in that Capitol,"
said Strayhorn, who has been slamming Gov. Rick Perry,
a fellow Republican � and has taken some bites herself
as she mulls running for his job next year.
"The analogy was very quickly drawn," she said.
Some observers of the state's Republican Party may
carry that analogy � of comradeship turning to
cannibalism � a bit further.
For one thing, there's a bigger fish in the Republican
sea circling Perry.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, also mulling a race
against the governor, recently hired a new campaign
manager and media strategist for 2006, the latter
known for helping defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Max
Cleland of Georgia in 2002 with attack ads linking
Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran, to Osama bin
Strayhorn's by-now routine jabs at Perry have drawn
critics who question her Republican credentials. She
blasts him as lacking leadership; he replies that his
pro-business vision benefits the state.
A 2003 bill OK'd by lawmakers and Perry cut programs
from Strayhorn's office. This year, she is being left
out of weekly breakfasts she attended last legislative
session with top leaders. She was omitted as a host
for a state GOP fund-raiser.
In a recent interview, Strayhorn wouldn't directly
answer whether she might return to the Democratic fold
she left long ago, simply repeating, "I am proud to be
a Republican" and saying she's got GOP grass-roots
Hutchison has taken a lower-key approach to stalking
Perry but focuses on some of the same issues,
including school finance and funding for the
Children's Health Insurance Program.
When the senator lamented that Texas had "voluntarily
forfeited" federal CHIP funds and that it didn't make
sense "as a simple matter of fiscal conservatism,"
Perry's spokesman called her ineffective in protecting
the state's interest.
Some say the choppy waves indicate a deeper roiling of
the state's Republican waters.
"I think what we're seeing broadly here is a
development within the Republican Party of the split
we used to see between the progressives and
conservatives in the Democratic Party," Southern
Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson
said. "When you've got a party that is the majority
party in the state, the real important fight is within
the primary of that party."
But lobbyist Bill Miller said, "Republicans have not
enjoyed statewide power long enough for a lot of
Republicans to be comfortable with elected Republicans
being harshly critical of other elected Republicans.
The divisions are not great and in some cases don't
Political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the University
of Texas at Austin said it appears to be "the normal
competitive jockeying that takes place in parties when
there's a sense it's possible to unseat an incumbent
or there's an open seat."
The last time Texas had a gubernatorial primary
free-for-all was the tough 1990 race among Democrats
Mark White, Jim Mattox and eventual victor Ann
Richards, which left lingering hard feelings.
"I think it is very similar," Mattox said. "I think
it's the Republican Party reaching a maturity where
they, instead of just selecting and dictating who's
going to be the nominees, now there's a viable primary
starting to develop."
"Strayhorn and Hutchison, either one, could make a
real horse race out of it with Gov. Perry," he said.
For Democrats, the 1990 election was a high point
before the Republican ascent to dominance.
"I don't think that the party came back together as
well as it perhaps should have after the race was over
with," said Mattox, who that year accused Richards of
having used drugs in the past.
Among Republicans, some predict neither Hutchison nor
Strayhorn would pose a tough primary threat, absent a
big Perry stumble. His anti-abortion, no-new-taxes
stands � among others � are seen as solidifying his
popularity among conservatives who traditionally vote
most heavily in GOP primaries.
"The problem for Carole and Kay is that there is no
organized mainstream of the party," GOP consultant
Royal Masset said. "Faction fights require factions."
Bexar County Republican Party Chairman Richard
Langlois � while emphasizing he's not taking sides �
said when he hears from those who may favor a Perry
challenger, they tend to like Hutchison and not talk
in terms of policy matters such as abortion.
"I don't hear people talk about what her stance is so
much," Langlois said. "They just like her."
Some are worried at the thought of a primary slugfest,
Langlois said, but others "feel a good fight
strengthens the party."
Strayhorn has blamed slights against her on "petty
politics" by Perry and added, "I have never been the
darling of the insiders."
Perry campaign director Luis Saenz said Strayhorn has
"isolated herself with her relentless attacks against
the state's leadership."
As for the aquarium analogy, Strayhorn didn't want to
carry it too far. But she did say the Oscar "got
really sick after he ate that fish."
Her spokesman, Mark Sanders, added pointedly, "The end
of the story is, the Oscar is no longer with us."
But then, he didn't add, neither is the goldfish.