Former Houston Mayor Bill White, who has distanced himself from President Barack Obama throughout his run for Texas governor, worked Sunday to increase black turnout and motivate rank-and-file Democrats just hours before Texans were to go to the polls.
Monday marks the start of early voting in Texas, and White began his day Sunday by hitting four predominantly African-American churches in North Texas. Then it was off to a largely black neighborhood in Fort Bend County, once the stronghold of Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay but now considered a bellwether in statewide elections.
"Let's turn out our base," yelled Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage, a black Democrat who helped introduce White at the rally. "Our base is going to get us there ... it's shoe leather, baby."
White, who has stressed cross-party appeal in his race against longtime Gov. Rick Perry, struck a more partisan tone when he took the stage at the Teal Run community park and recreation center in Fresno.
White portrayed Perry, who has aligned himself with the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party, as "somebody who uses state office to create a right-wing political machine." White also made hay out of Perry's upcoming book, "Fed Up!," about the perceived overreach of the federal government. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a co-author.
"We're only one of a handful of states where there is no majority ethnic group," White said. "But we're the ones whose governor has a book on sale co-authored with Newt Gingrich."
Boos rose from the crowd at the mention of Gingrich, a firebrand conservative who helped lead a shutdown of the U.S. government in a battle with Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1995.
White also criticized Perry's repeated focus on "state's rights," a phrase that southern governors once used to defend segregation and that remains unpopular with many African-American voters.
Perry has repeatedly sought to tie White to Obama, even as the former Houston mayor has criticized the federal health care overhaul and deficit spending in Washington. White angered some black voters when he decided not to meet with Obama when the president made a swing through Texas in August. As the election draws near, black voters and elected officials in the state say voters are in a forgiving mood.
"Obama is my president ... but if hugging him is going to hurt your campaign, why would you do something to hurt your campaign," said former state Judge Morris Overstreet, who is black.
Obama drove up turnout in this neighborhood in 2008 and won almost half the vote countywide, handing a county commissioner seat long held by a Republican to Democrat Richard Morrison. Sporting a red Obama hat at the rally Sunday, Morrison, who is white, said it made sense for White to show up at the Teal Run community center for a boisterous get-out-the-vote rally.
"The (White) campaign is not stupid," said Morrison. "This is the best Democratic box in the county."
After the event in Fort Bend, White also staged a turnout rally Galveston and had another planned in Houston Sunday.
Perry also visited churches Sunday, but in the Dallas suburbs, and he had an event with supporters in rural Cleburne. Already the longest serving governor in Texas history, Perry is running for an unprecedented third term.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner called Perry a "proven and effective leader" who will keep taxes low and help spur economic growth.
"Bill White is for increased taxes and supporting the policies of Obama," Miner said.
Starting Monday, Texans can vote early at any polling place in their county between Monday and Oct. 29. Hours of operation vary by county.
White plans to vote in Houston with his wife, Andrea, on Monday morning. Perry is voting in Austin on Monday. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Meanwhile, White got the backing of the editorial boards of six more daily Texas newspapers, while Perry has picked up one in support of his re-election.
The San Antonio Express-News, Amarillo Globe-News, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, San Angelo Standard-Times, Wichita Falls Times Record News and The Eagle of Bryan-College Station published their endorsements of the former Houston mayor's campaign in their Sunday editions. White received prior endorsements from The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Beaumont Enterprise and Galveston County Daily News.
Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Waco Tribune-Herald endorsed the Republican Perry's re-election in an editorial published Sunday.
Perry has broken with tradition this year and chosen not to seek endorsements from newspaper editorial boards.