Hutchison v. Perry: Big Drama, And History Too?

2010 is going to be an amazing year for political junkies, but I think one thing everyone agrees on is that the March 2 Republican gubernatorial primary in Texas is going to be one for the ages. That's the one where Gov. Rick Perry is being challenged by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

So much ink has been spilled on this race, none better I thought than the Dec. 6 article in the New York Times Magazine by Robert Draper, who calls the matchup a great example of the GOP's "internal discontents":

The issues and cultural references in the race are unmistakably Texan. But the contest's central question — whether a highly popular general-election Republican (Hutchison) can defeat a less-popular Republican (Perry) who nonetheless knows how to excite conservative primary voters — goes to the heart of the party's overall vitality. In an effort to reclaim Reagan's scepter, both campaigns are aggressively ignoring the Gipper's 11th Commandment to not speak ill of fellow Republicans. The mounting ugliness between "Slick Rick" and "Kay Bailout" seems destined to turn off independent voters because, as the veteran political handicapper Charlie Cook observes: "in a primary, shrillness matters. It's a race to the fringe." ...

It's bad enough that a sitting governor not beset by scandal is about to be embroiled in a costly (perhaps as much as $50 million) intraparty contest before a potentially tough general election. But in 2010, as the party writ large struggles to coalesce around a singular leader and message, the spectacle of two well-known Republicans savaging each other is a midterm gift to the Democratic National Committee. The pain is already being felt in Texas. Each candidate lays a claim to Texas royalty (Perry's great-grandfather served in the Texas House in 1892, while Hutchison's great-great-grandfather was among the 54 men who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836). Each is a Karl Rove prot??g??. Back in 1990, when each first ascended to statewide office (he as agriculture commissioner, she as treasurer), the two fresh-faced Republicans campaigned together and were seen as the party's twin stars. Today they're each other's worst enemy.

A primary on the national stage. But is it one for history? That's what Sarah Lopez of Houston, Texas wants to know:

Everyone here is consumed by Perry-Hutchison. When was the last time a sitting senator came home to challenge a sitting governor in their own party's primary?

The answer is, never. Never before has a U.S. senator gone home to take on his or her own party's governor in a primary. As it is, the list of senators elected governor is small; just five have made the move in the past half-century or so: Price Daniel (D-TX) in 1956, Pete Wilson (R-CA) in 1990, Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) in 1998, Frank Murkowski (R-AK) in 2002, and Jon Corzine (D-NJ) in 2005. But none challenged an incumbent to do so, in a primary or in the general.

Daniel ran only after Texas Gov. Allan Shivers (D), an ally, decided to retire. Both Wilson and Kempthorne succeeded retiring Republican governors (George Deukmejian and Phil Batt, respectively). Murkowski ran in Alaska to succeed a term-limited Democrat, Tony Knowles. Corzine jumped in the race after his fellow Democrat, Jim McGreevey, resigned in a sex scandal and the acting governor, Richard Codey, also a Dem, didn't want to fight Corzine or his millions. But there was no primary.)

And while I know there's probably more, I can only think of two other senators who ran for governor while still in office, at least since senators were first popularly elected starting in 1913.

In 1958, Bill Knowland, the Republican leader of the Senate from California, felt the best way for him to reach the White House was as a governor. The problem: Gov. Goodwin Knight, a fellow Republican (albeit more of a foe than a friend), didn't want to give up his job. A Knowland-Knight primary was averted when Knight gave way and ran for the Senate. As it was, both Republicans lost that year.

The other was Sen. Irving Ives (R-NY). When Gov. Thomas Dewey (R) announced late in 1954 that he wanted to retire, Republicans drafted Ives as their candidate for governor. He wound up losing to Averell Harriman, though he didn't have to give up his Senate seat.

There are instances where a governor has challenged a senator of his own party in the primary. Two memorable contests were the Democratic battle in Arkansas between Gov. Dale Bumpers and Sen. J.W. Fulbright in 1974, and the GOP affair in South Dakota between Gov. Bill Janklow and Sen. Jim Abdnor in 1986. (For the record, Bumpers won but Janklow lost.) But never before has a senator gone home to take on a governor in the primary.

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