Is Rick Perry In Trouble In Texas?

We hope not, but….

With the fight over Congress intensifying and President Obama’s agenda hanging in the balance, coverage of this fall’s governor’s races has largely fallen by the wayside. But the outcomes of some of these races will have significant consequences — none more so than the contest in Texas, between Republican incumbent Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White, the former mayor of Houston.

Texas, where Democrats have been struggling for years to wage competitive campaigns, may seem like an unlikely battleground, especially in the climate of 2010. Today, not a single one of its statewide offices is occupied by a Democrat, and Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate seat or the governorship in the last 20 years. The party’s institutional failures have been all too apparent as its candidates have endured repeated embarrassing beatings in races initially seen as winnable.

Rick Perry exemplifies Democrats’ frustrations in Texas. Ascending to the governorship in 2000 (when George W. Bush left to become president), Perry has proven resilient despite some shaky poll numbers. Cultivating an image of something of a Texas Marlboro Man — a label fashioned by Newsweek — Perry’s hissing rhetoric against Democrats, his happy rejection of federal stimulus money, and his musings that Texas could secede have made him a conservative darling while earning him the enmity of liberals and many moderates.

Perry’s past successes — he won reelection in 2002 and 2006 — point to both his canniness and his vulnerability. In ’06, Perry won with just 39 percent, and in this year’s GOP primary, he dismantled Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who had entered the race as a strong favorite, with withering anti-Washington broadsides. But fending off Hutchison, Perry created new cleavages in the electorate, earning resentment from a conservative business class that had long viewed him with unease. These subtle weaknesses give Democrats, who last won the governorship with Ann Richards in 1990, a real chance with White.

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