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Feeding frenzy seen for GOP's 2006 primary

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/stategov/stories/MYSA021705.1B.GOPsplit.b58200ac.html Feeding frenzy seen for GOP s 2006 primary Web Posted: 02/17/2005 12:00
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2005
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      http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/stategov/stories/MYSA021705.1B.GOPsplit.b58200ac.html

      Feeding frenzy seen for GOP's 2006 primary

      Web Posted: 02/17/2005 12:00 AM CST

      Peggy Fikac
      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
      Laden.

      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
      support.

      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
      exist."

      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.
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