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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rick Perry Gets Lucky Again

Texas governor Rick Perry is not what you’d call a statesman, but as the old saying goes, if you can’t be good, be lucky. Perry’s been a very lucky–and opportunistic–politician. He was first elected to the Texas legislature as a Democrat (hard to believe, given his current behavior), and switched parties just in time to take advantage of the rise of the GOP in Texas. In his first statewide race, in 1990, he squeaked by the famous left-populist Jim Hightower to become Agriculture Commissioner; Hightower had not exactly made life easier for himself in Texas by becoming deeply involved in Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign.
In 1998, Perry hitched a ride to the top of Texas politics as George W. Bush’s running-mate, again very narrowly winning the general election (this time over John Sharp) with a lot of help from Bush associates who were getting ready for W.’s presidential run and didn’t want a Democrat wreaking havoc in Austin when the candidate was out of state. Perry inherited the governorship two years later. His two re-elections haven’t been terribly impressive: in 2002, he beat Rick Sanchez, a political neophyte widely perceived as running a very bad campaign, and in 2006, survived with just 39% of the vote in a crazy four-candidate general election.
Perry’s great stroke of luck this year was to run against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a formidable politician in the past, in absolutely the worst climate imaginable for a United States Senator. Hutchison also obliged Perry by running an unfocused campaign with virtually no message (she joined Sanchez on the Houston Chronicle’s list of the ten worst campaigns in Texas history). Moreover, a third candidate, Tea Party activist Debra Medina, self-destructed by going on Glenn Beck’s show and sounding like a 9/11 “truther.” Perry manged to win yesterday with few votes to spare, garnering 51% of the vote against Hutchison’s 30% and Medina’s 19%.
We’ll see if Perry’s luck holds one more time in November; his Democratic opponent, former Houston mayor Bill White, is a respected politician who will not roll over and play dead. It’s says a lot about the incumbent’s residual weakness that he’s not a prohibitive favorite in a state like Texas in a year like 2010.
Perry gets mentioned now and then as a potential presidential candidate in 2012. He would definitely be stretching his luck by taking his act the national level, but don’t rule it out for a guy who had the opportunity to watch George W. Bush up close and personal when he turned privilege and perfect timing into an unlikely rise to the presidency.

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