Perry is a better election candidate than KBH

Perhaps this is already obvious, but I think I'll say it anyway: Rick Perry is now the most electable candidate in the Republican primary.

Kay Bailey Hutchison went into the primary as the stronger general election candidate, albeit with an asterisk that we needed to see some proof that her campaign skills hadn't atrophied since her last real race in 1993. Her advantages were clear: a long-time reputation as a moderate, the highest favorables of any Texas politician over a long period of time, and the backing of much of the state's big business and media establishment.

However, during the course of the campaign, Hutchison's favorables have declined. Further, she's muddied up her reputation as a moderate. Meanwhile, her media spots have been widely panned and her debate performances have been lackadaisical. And that's not even mentioning minor failures like her campaign announcement. It's no surprise that the last Rasmussen poll essentially had her running even with Perry against White.

No Message
After watching this primary season, I have zero confidence in KBH to put together a coherent message. She's literally been thinking about running for governor against Rick Perry for 9 years, yet she has no message. None. I don't get the impression that she thought about what she wanted to do as governor before running; if she has, she hasn't really given us any clue as to what exactly that would be. What would she focus on? I don't know. And if she does have a message, then she's failed at articulating it.

Instead, it seems like we're seeing a Kitchen Sink strategy: throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. While it's possible that she has simply failed strategically during the primary and can still put together a winning message in the general campaign, it seems significantly less likely.

KBH won her senate seat in a crazy multi-candidate special election; the runoff was against an appointed senator (appointed senators have a horrible record winning re-election) in what was becoming a red state at a favorable time for the GOP while Clinton was unpopular. After beating Ronnie Earle's indictment against her in 1994, she has faced nominal opposition only. [Full disclosure: I remember nothing about her race for treasurer two decades ago.] She's proven that she can use her approval ratings and fundraising to avoid opponents, but hasn't really proven (and especially not recently) that she can win a 1 on 1 competition against a non-token Democrat.

Have Perry's opponents been better? For sure, Chris Bell was an underwhelming candidate, who by his own admission would have been outperformed by a corpse. Even the 2006 general, however, was higher profile than any of KBH's opponents since the special election. While Tony Sanchez is largely panned by Texas Democrats now, he spent $70 million or so in 2002 trying to take Perry down and came up completely short. Meanwhile, Perry ran a solid race against John Sharp in 1998. He's had more meaningful opponents and has proven he can win in the general election.

In sum, I think Kay Bailey has already lost much of the advantages she would have brought to the general election. Going into the race, we knew she had a popular image, but outside of being a moderate, it wasn't a very defined image. Given that she hasn't run a competitive campaign in 15 years and that her primary campaign has been an absolute messaging and performance disaster, we have to have some skepticism about the current state of her campaign skills. I think most Dems still want to run against Perry, but I think they are about 6 months behind the times.

Posted by Evan @ 02/03/10 09:53 AM


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