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Friedman Shakes Up Texas Governor Race

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Friedman Shakes Up Texas Governor Race

Politics

Friedman Shakes Up Texas Governor Race

Friedman Shakes Up Texas Governor Race

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In Texas, Republican incumbent Rick Perry is running against Democrat Chris Bell and Independent Kinky Friedman. Though Friedman isn't likely to win, his charismatic, high-profile campaign has made things tough for Chris Bell. Alex Cohen reports from Austin, Texas.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes our own Karen Grigsby Bates gets gory. She goes behind the scenes with a company that makes hospital dramas like ER and House look all too real.

But first, what do a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent grandma, and a Jewish cowboy have in common? I know that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. But really, it's no joke - they're all trying to be the next governor of Texas.

As NPR's Alex Cohen reports, with so many candidates in the running, things get pretty interesting.

ALEX COHEN: The big question in this race is not who will win, but rather by how much. The incumbent, Republican Governor Rick Perry is expected to prevail come Tuesday, but according to recent polls 60 percent of Texans will vote for someone else. Many will opt for the Democratic candidate, a radio reporter turned congressman, named Chris Bell.

Rick Perry's been running attack ads against Bell, which spoof a popular Bud Light commercial.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: Today we salute you, Mr. Way-Too-Liberal-For-Texas-Guy.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Mr. Way-Too-Liberal-For-Texas-Guy.

COHEN: The candidate mocked in this ad - Chris Bell - has been trailing Perry by about 15 points. His campaign started out wobbly. Experts say the candidates name ironically enough didn't ring a... bell. But things have picked up since then and Bell performed quite well in the one televised debate held during the race.

Representative CHRIS BELL (Democrat, Texas): I am a serious man with a serious plan. When I'm governor, Texas will be a better place to live, Texas will be a better place to work, and Texas will be a better place to raise our children, so help me God.

COHEN: But maybe Bell is too serious for this race, especially given two of the other candidates are selling themselves on quirky personality. First up: Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn, otherwise known as One Tough Grandma.

Ms. CAROLE KEETON STRAYHORN (Running for governor of Texas): I'm 67 years old. My future isn't politics. It's my grandkids. And I want to protect their future from an Austin that doesn't listen, spends money we don't have, and taxes us when they want more.

COHEN: Strayhorn's managed to raise a lot of cash and swing both Republican and Democratic votes. But her little old lady persona hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the other independent candidate.

Unidentified Man #3: Please welcome the man who's breathing life into the Texas independence. The next governor of the great state of Texas: Kinky Friedman.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

COHEN: Country musician, mystery novelist, and rescuer of abandoned animals, Kinky Friedman has been wooing traditional non-voters and students, like the ones who gathered for this rally at Texas State University. Kinky's campaign involves stickers with clever one-liners like My Governor's a Jewish Cowboy; and Kinky for Governor, Why the Hell Not?

Mr. KINKY FRIEDMAN (Running for governor of Texas): I think the whole state's ready for a non-politician. All I've got to do is say look, I've got no political experience whatsoever and the crowd cheers. Why would they do that? Because we're all feeling the same way, we're all ready for a change.

COHEN: If elections were held on MySpace - as a recent New York Times graphic demonstrated - Kinky probably would be elected governor with his more than 34,000 virtual friends. But when it comes to traditional polls, Kinky's projected to capture less than 10 percent of the Texas vote.

Ms. SHERRI GREENBERG (LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas): He could be the Ralph Nader of this election.

COHEN: Sherri Greenberg teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Ms. GREENBERG: When you have five people running, any number that you peel off can make the difference. Obviously - as we saw in the presidential race when Ralph Nader was in it.

COHEN: What's more, Kinky may wind up with a bigger number than current polls indicate. Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly Magazine, says that less than 10 percent number comes from traditional polls. And the kind of voters Kinky's appealed to aren't often counted in such polls.

Mr. EVAN SMITH (Editor, Texas Monthly Magazine): And many of the people voting for Kinky are people who have never voted before because they don't like to play in the traditional game of politics, or they're young people who'll be voting for the first time.

COHEN: Still, he says, Kinky will likely lose and incumbent Rick Perry will most likely win. But, Smith says, with such a big cast of characters on the Texas ballot Rick Perry may win with a very low percentage of votes.

Mr. SMITH: And he has designs on possibly being the vice presidential running mate to one or another of the candidates in 2008. And if those candidates are looking for somebody who has proven vote getting potential, a guy who gets reelected with 35 percent of the vote may not be that guy.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: So here's to you Mr. I'm-In-The-Lead-But-I-May-Not-Win-By-Much. Alex Cohen, NPR News, in Austin.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: And there's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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