GOVERNOR'S RACE: MIGHT BE A BRAWL AFTER ALL
by Tom Pauken    Mon, Oct 24, 2005, 10:33 PM
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Houston Mayor Bill White
The hot rumor in Houston is that former Democratic Congressman Chris Bell may drop his candidacy for Governor and be replaced by Houston Mayor Bill White. A Houston political insider tells DallasBlog that, once White is re-elected Mayor of Houston next month the stage would be set for Bell to withdraw from the race in favor of White.
Texas Democrats believe that Gov. Perry is vulnerable in 2006 but only if a really strong Democratic candidate is nominated. Democrats had hoped former State Controller John Sharp would be their standard bearer against Perry, but Sharp recently announced that he would not be a candidate for office next year. Instead, Sharp agreed to head a state commission appointed by Gov. Perry tasked with finding a solution to the school finance crisis in Texas.
So far Chris Bell’s campaign for Governor (Bell’s claim to fame was the complaint he filed with the House Ethics Committee against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay when Bell was in Congress) has not gotten off the ground. In fact, Kinky Friedman’s quixotic campaign for Governor as an Independent has been generating more statewide attention than has Bell’s.
Even though Texas has become a Republican state, Democrats see 2006 as an opportunity to regain the Governor’s office. They see Perry’s popularity sagging as a result of the failure of the Republican-controlled legislature to get anything done on school finance. Ronnie Earle’s criminal prosecution of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay and its roots in funding previous GOP state level campaigns hasn’t helped matters for Texas Republicans. Nor does President Bush’s sinking popularity give Republican statewide candidates the advantage they have enjoyed ever since George W. Bush was elected Governor in 1994.
The Democrats’ problem is that they need a political race horse to ride to victory; and that’s why the rumor about a possible Bill White candidacy is intriguing. White is a multi-millionaire businessman who is a former Democratic State Chairman in Texas. White is capable of writing a very large check to fund his own campaign, and White has gained valuable name recognition as the Mayor of the largest city in Texas.
Currently White is riding a wave of popularity in the wake of his very public response to problems associated with hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Mayor also has taken advantage of the Houston Astros appearance in the World Series by calling on Astros fans to have a "no white sox" weekend, by not wearing white socks for the three day weekend surrounding the opening of the World Series. This clever PR gimmick has caught on among Houston fans.
A source close to White indicates the Houston Mayor would like to be Governor but remains skeptical that a Democrat can defeat Perry in 2006. Democratic strategists are trying to convince him that a "pro-business/social liberal" like White can win, even in a strong Republican state like Texas. Their scenario for winning the Governorship goes like this: Democrat-turned Republican Carol Strayhorn runs a negative media campaign against Perry in the GOP primary with strong financial backing coming from Texas Trial Lawyers.  Strayhorn has burned a lot of bridges with Texas Republicans over the past two years and most political insiders give Strayhorn little chance of defeating Perry in a Republican primary. But, she could wound Perry politically with a relentless set of attacks against him between now and the March primary.
Meanwhile, Democrats "anoint" White as their nominee for Governor; and Bill White goes into the general election campaign against Rick Perry with good name ID, positive approval ratings, and low negatives.  There are serious timing problems.  White would hardly have given a victory statement in the Mayor’s race before he would have to become a gubernatorial candidate.  However, given the Democrats’ conviction that 2006 will be a good year for their Party it could result in Texas having a competitive race for Governor next year after all.
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