Perry wins without a runoff.
The question was never whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry was going to come out on top in Tuesday's Republican primary; it was whether he would get enough votes to avoid an April 13 runoff. He did. Perry, already the longest serving governor in state history, beat back challenges from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and activist and Tea Party favorite Debra Medina.
Here's how it looks with about 88 percent of the vote counted:
The Democratic nomination went to former Houston Mayor Bill White, who defeated businessman Farouk Shami with about 76 percent, or 485,881 votes, with 92 percent of the precincts reporting. Shami had 12.7 percent and five others trailed with low single digits.
Hutchison was attempting to do what had never been tried before, in any state: a sitting U.S. senator coming home to challenge a governor in her own party for renomination. Once, she was a clear favorite. Once, there was talk about "Perry fatigue." But Perry adroitly tapped into dissatisfaction with government, painting Hutchison as a creature of the Washington establishment and talking the conservatives' talk, at one point even discussing secession from the Union. Hutchison had members of the Bush family behind her — George H.W. & his wife Barbara, Dick Cheney, James Baker, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, you name it — but to the governor and his campaign, that was just more insiderism. Perry had Sarah Palin.
A flap involving Medina and her response in a Glenn Beck radio interview about who was responsible for 9/11 — the so-called "truther" issue — did not seem to play a major role in the outcome. She had been polling around 20 percent, and she finished just short of that. Perhaps, had Perry not been so willing to espouse such red-meat conservative rhetoric, her total would have been higher. Ultimately, when all was said and done, Hutchison became the least interesting story in all of this ... despite her 17 years in Washington and a conservative record that prior to the campaign showed her to be the most popular pol in the state.
Having now been spared the time and expense of having to go through a runoff, the governor is going to have to unite the party in time to hold off a very determined challenge from White, who was running for the Senate (assuming a Hutchison resignation) when party leaders prevailed upon him to switch races. No Democrat has won the governorship since Ann Richards in 1990, and she won that year primarily because the GOP candidate, Clayton Williams, self-destructed. If this matchup took place four years ago, perhaps White would have beaten Perry. But, with Barack Obama as the president and Republicans feeling good about themselves — unlike 2006 — it's going to be tough for White to win.
Some Democrats have suggested that a poor Hutchison showing could send a similar signal to other Republican "insiders" running around the country, such as Rob Portman in the Ohio Senate race. I don't buy it. Only a Republican incumbent like Perry could paint himself — as President Ronald Reagan did running for re-election in 1984 — as the outsider candidate. Besides, with Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, and an apparent anti-Democratic mood prevailing across the nation, it's going to be hard to portray GOP candidates as the establishment.
In two Democratic statewide primaries that had attracted some attention, former AFL-CIO official Linda Chavez-Thompson defeated ex-Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in the three-way race for lt. gov., and Hank Gilbert, a rancher and former gubernatorial hopeful, beat singer/entertainer Kinky Friedman for agriculture commissioner.
And in the 18th Congressional District, centered in downtown Houston, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D) swamped challenger Jarvis Johnson. The remaining 31 House incumbents were also renominated with no difficulty.
Trivia: A look at other senators who came home to run for governor can be found in this Junkie post from last December.