Texas Governor: Kay Hedges Her Bets; Cheney Does Not

Kay for Governor

Hutchison says she will resign her Senate seat, just not yet. hide caption

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Earlier this year, when the polls regarding her primary challenge to Texas Gov. Rick Perry looked more favorable, Kay Bailey Hutchison announced she would resign her Senate seat, probably in October or November, to focus entirely on her gubernatorial quest.

This week, the Republican senator reversed course, saying she will stay in the Senate in advance of the March 2, 2010 gov primary, though she promises — it's "crystal clear," she says — that she will leave sometime next year. She's staying because she wants to be there to fight Democratic efforts on health care and global warming, and she doesn't want to cede that to a Senate newcomer:

I realize this will keep me in the Senate past the primary election. ... These issues are too important to leave the fight to a newly appointed freshman senator who will be selected in the midst of a political storm. ... I will be resigning this Senate seat. For all of the good Republicans out there who plan on running for my Senate seat next year, make no mistake, this is going to happen.

The resignation timetable and the endless talk about it have clearly tripped up her campaign, to the benefit of Perry camp. Mark Miner, his spokesman, said, "Hopefully this will allow her to be a full-time senator for the people of Texas."

Meanwhile, she received a a high-profile endorsement yesterday from former Vice President Dick Cheney:

We westerners know the difference between a real talker and the real deal. When it comes to being conservative, Kay Bailey Hutchison is the real deal.

It was interesting to see Cheney take a swipe at Perry, who after all was George W. Bush's number two in Texas until Bush left for Washington after the 2000 election. However, there never were any indications that Bush and Perry were particularly close. CNN's Gloria Borger said Cheney's relationship with Hutchison "goes back to the days when they were both in Dallas, a time when Cheney served as Halliburton CEO."

The Associated Press' Jay Root writes that the Cheney endorsement "represents the highest profile endorsement Hutchison has gotten so far. Support from the former vice president, who remains popular with many conservative activists, could help Hutchison shore up her right flank." Here's a similar take from the Austin American-Statesman's Ken Herman:

This was a solid event for Hutchison. She and Cheney made liberal use of the word "conservative," a key effort as she works to chip away at Perry's image as further to the right. ...

For Hutchison, the endorsement is a big deal. Cheney, though seemingly omnipresent on other issues, has not been doing campaign events. I find no record of him endorsing in the recent gubernatorial race in Virginia, where he lives. I guess Bob McDonnell, now Virginia's GOP governor-elect, didn't see much upside in palling around with Cheney. The ex-veep's endorsement probably is more valuable in a GOP primary in a GOP state like Texas than it would have been in a general election in a swing state like Virginia.

Miner, the Perry spokesman, dismissed the endorsement as thus: "The Washington establishment usually sticks together." And the Wall Street Journal's Miguel Bustillo says that Hutchison's attempt to unseat Perry "remains an uphill battle":

Mr. Perry has built a large lead in polls with less than four months to go to the March 2 primary. In part, he has scored points using what's shaping up as a popular strategy for many candidates during this election cycle, with rhetoric portraying Ms. Hutchison as a Washington insider out of touch with down-home Texans. ...

The battle between Texas and Washington for Ms. Hutchison's time and attention has been one obstacle for the senator. She even had trouble attending her own rally with Mr. Cheney here Tuesday because she was voting on a military spending bill in Washington. That forced a two-hour postponement of her arrival. ...

Ms. Hutchison has accused Mr. Perry of not understanding the suffering of many Texans in the recession, among other charges. But political observers say the 16-year Senate veteran, initially elected on an outsider platform in 1993, has found herself swimming against an anti-Washington sentiment among conservative activists that is particularly strong in Texas.

Splitting her time between Texas and Washington has been "a deadly mistake," said Royal Masset, a GOP political consultant in Austin who is not working for either side. "This could not have been more perfectly set up for Rick Perry," Mr. Masset said. "This election is coming at just the right time for him, when there is this fear of socialism among some Republicans based on what is happening in Washington, and she is seen, fairly or not, as part of that Washington establishment."

For his part, Perry has received endorsements from establishment (Haley Barbour) and anti-establishment (Sarah Palin) figures as well. Perry said this week he expects Palin to campaign for him after the first of the year.

And speaking of endorsements and real conservatives, for the record, Perry's candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 was Rudy Giuliani, whose family values and position on abortion made him shall we say less than a favorite among religious conservatives.

Also running for the GOP nomination is conservative activist Debra Medina, whose roots are in the Tea Party protests. Democratic candidates include attorney (and former Bush business partner) Tom Schieffer, rancher Hank Gilbert and comedian Kinky Friedman, who ran as an independent four years ago.

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