U.S. Senator Hutchison and Governor Perry Lose Televised Debate to Texas Tea Partier

One of the nation's more closely watched races in 2010, the March Republican primary for Governor of Texas, pits a sitting U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, against a sitting governor, Rick Perry.
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One of the nation's more closely watched races in 2010, the March Republican primary for Governor of Texas, pits a sitting U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, against a sitting governor, Rick Perry.

Judging by their first encounter Thursday night, broadcast statewide on PBS and nationally on C-SPAN2, they both lost to a Tea Party darling named Debra Medina. A gun totin' and property rights supportin' libertarian-Republican from the boondocks, Medina came off like Dick Cheney's long lost twin sister. She was calm and collected, but her message was red meat for the masses on the Right.

With some decent fundraising, she could cost Perry part of his base.

On guns: Medina always carries. She did admit honoring the Texas concealed law that barely disallows taking a gun anywhere at any time. She regretted, however, that she can't pack heat at her local grocery store. This is obviously because she wants everyone else at the grocery store armed and dangerous, too. Everyone locked and loaded, everywhere, seems to be her modern-day read of the Second Amendment.

On property taxes: Medina supports the notion of ending all property taxes, period. She'd replace this massive lost revenue with massive sales tax increases, which would eat the poor, bust municipal and county budgets statewide, and impact all but the super-wealthy. Indeed, such a scheme would batter the middle class, yet there is support for it within the base of the Republican Party in Texas, and elsewhere, despite the fact that most Republicans (Tea Partiers, too) are hardly wealthy.

Although both the Republican senator and governor largely share Medina's philosophy, they didn't dare touch it in such a public setting. They sniped at each other while leaving her alone to cleanly express her views. Hutchison did smartly engage Medina at one point to tag-team Perry on jobs. He survived.

He also leads Hutchison in the polls; that won't change based on Thursday night. And there was obviously no counter-viewpoint from the other side. This was, after all, a primary debate. Everyone on stage was far right...and far righter.

Take Perry. Americans know him as the guy who threatened last summer to secede from the Union, claiming a bizarre constitutional ability to do so that simply doesn't exist, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Perhaps he thinks his 22 million constituents are better off as foreigners, doing without federal spending on things like defense ($30 billion alone in 2004, third most behind California and Virginia), disaster relief ($3.4 billion since he became Governor in 2001, the most of any state), and research grants to hospitals and universities. Don't forget the student loan program. Then there's Medicare and Medicaid; Texans lose those, too, with secession.

Clearly, Rick Perry isn't the brightest light in the Lone Star sky.

Then there's Kay Hutchison. A senator since 1993, she's considered the "moderate" in this field of conservatives despite positions almost identical to Perry on every issue. But instead of playing to the middle, she's tacked starboard for this race. The problem is that she can't possibly out-troglodyte Perry with conservative voters who comprise the state's Republican Party base. Why would they choose her over the devil they know and love? They wouldn't.

She can't win the primary unless she beats the living hell out of him in aggressive TV ads and debate performance. So far, she's done neither, and he's supposedly bringing in Sarah Palin next month. The Wasilla Wonder (population 6,000 when she was mayor), couldn't finish one lousy term as governor in a state with only 680,000 people. Still, she's a rock star with Perry's crowd, and her appearance will probably ice his re-nomination.

With one Tea Partier flipping a congressional seat in upstate New York to a Democrat, and another one biting at the heels of Florida governor Charlie Crist in his Republican bid for U.S. senate, who knows where this goes?

The Democratic candidate for governor, Bill White (recent mayor of Houston), could well be the beneficiary of this GOP in-fighting come November, facing a wounded opponent. Keep in mind that President Obama won the major cities in Texas in 2008, and the state is more purple than red, despite how the nation perceives it.

Stay tuned.

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