It's on? (part 2)

It's been pointed out to me that my post yesterday sounded somewhat harsh against Senator Hutchison, which was not my intent. Instead, it rather assumed that the reader views this race in context.

Four years ago, this blog got started and had some immediate attention, probably because I was one of the few predicting that Senator Hutchison was unlikely to defeat Governor Perry. Hutchison loudly explored the race, to the point where I assumed that her candidacy was a foregone conclusion. I wasn't alone, of course. Among others, I remember a Dallas publication -- the DMN, I believe -- announcing that it was 100% that Kay was going to run on its Kay-o-meter. Meanwhile, Perry's political people maintained all along that it was unlikely she'd make the race. I assumed all along that they were just trying to portray her as indecisive, but they were ultimately shown perspicaceious. I think she took a hard look and realized that she was not a favorite to win in 2006.

That was a few years ago now; will she run this time? Well, she's doing everything she can right now to make it look certain. For example, after posting the press release on her site, she followed up by posting again later the same day. And what was the message? I'm running:

cannot tell you how honored I am by the enthusiastic response from so many Texans today.

Let there be no mistake…I am certainly not undecided.

mechanics about running snipped

That's rather a surprising follow-up, were the campaign occurring in a vacuum. Normally political candidates play coy, act undecided even when they aren't, pretend they want to be drafted even when they are running full steam, etc. Not this time. By signalling that she's running, she keeps Perry from sweeping up endorsements and money while it is nominally an uncontested race. There's some downsides to starting early too, of course, but given her coquettish history, it's probably a wise tactical move to do as she is.

Unlike this time last cycle, I no longer think Perry is a favorite to beat Hutchison, for the simple reason that he's been governor for 10 years by the time this term is over. That's not to say I think Hutchison is an overwhelming favorite, quite the contrary I think she's just slightly more likely in a head-to-head matchup, though a Perry v. Hutchison heads-up match is far from certain right now.

We all more or less know the Governor's political weaknesses. 10 years, after all, is a long time. And, to think, if he wins re-election, he'll have been governor of Texas for almost 10% of its statehood. Frankly, I think that's a weakness. I'm not certain he'll choose to run for re-election, though I think it's probably about as likely that he runs as that KBH runs.

As the most popular political figure in Texas for over a decade, it's clear that KBH has strengths. But some of the weaknesses are less obvious, and that's why I wrote my previous post. When politicians have been around for awhile, people in politics have a tendency to assume that the politician is a known brand. To some extent, that is true, though my unverifiable hypothesis is that it is far less true than most political consultants assume.

Brands tell voters about the past and elections are about the future. Unless you can translate a brand into telling voters about the future, then a brand doesn't mean much (again, see John McCain 2005 v 2008). Kay Bailey Hutchison currently has a brand as being...popular. nice. Mainstream Republican. Maybe moderate, maybe conservative; no one is too sure. I don't think many people could tell you many issues that she's strongly for or against; or what her main accomplishments are in 14 years in the Senate. She'll have to answer the "why do you want to be governor?" question...and as I implied yesterday, when you've flirted with running for governor for the better part of a decade, it implies a strong desire to be governor...but maybe not so much a defining agenda as to why you want to be governor.

It will be a tough line for her to walk. There are certainly people on both sides of the aisle who are ready for change in the political leadership of the state. She has the advantage that she is popular and isn't tied to the old terrain of trench warfare. To me, this is of primal importance: balancing her need to not get dragged down into politics with her need to translate her brand into the future.

Posted by Evan @ 12/05/08 02:09 PM


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