From left, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Gov. Rick Perry and Debra Medina are seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
Whether he was folksy or uppity or a little of both, Gov. Rick Perry demonstrated the aggressive campaign style he's known for in his first debate with Republican rival Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Texas governor's race, and he kept it up during post-debate comments Friday.
Perry scolded Hutchison Thursday night for neglecting her U.S. Senate duties, called her inconsistent on abortion and criticized her initial vote for the federal economic bailout. In short, he lectured Hutchison with the confidence -- or overconfidence -- of a gubernatorial front-runner.
Perry told reporters Friday he found it "laughable" that Hutchison was criticizing him and other state officials for their economic policies.
"The message is: 'I'm from Washington, D.C. and I want to make it better,"' he said, flashing the big smile he used frequently during the debate.
In response, Hutchinson spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said, "What's laughable is Rick Perry's record on transportation" and other issues.
Hutchison's attack on the parts of Perry's record he's most proud of -- tax cuts and job creation -- were uncharacteristically sharp.
"You have permanently increased taxes on our businesses. That is not conservative," Hutchison said, one of the numerous times she chided Perry for they way he has dealt with property and business taxes during his nine years in office. She tried to stick with fiscal issues to question Perry's conservative credentials.
Both major GOP candidates scored points Thursday night in what was a feisty, sometimes antagonistic debate, at the University of North Texas. It was the first before the March 2 Republican primary.
Another debate is scheduled in two weeks. Unlike Thursday's debate, it won't include candidate Debra Medina, a party activist and a long shot in the GOP race.
The first debate was "heavy on fireworks and light on substance," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who was in the auditorium. The candidates barely touched on education, immigration and transportation, partly because of the nature of the questions posed to them by a panel of journalists and by audience members.
Perry got the most laughs from the live audience, and before the debate was waving and winking to people in the crowd. But on television he came off to some viewers as too animated and aggressive, even snippy.
"Fake, artificial, overly political, smarmy is a word some people have been using about the approach the governor took," Jillson said, citing news interviews at debate-watching parties. Jillson said the viewer's opinion is likely determined by whether he or she leans toward supporting Perry, Hutchison or Medina.
Perry is ahead in the race by 10 to 12 points, according to several polls, and that showed in the governor's upbeat demeanor, Jillson said. "He's confident. He thinks that this race is right where he wants it," Jillson said.
Meanwhile, Hutchison tried to deliver the message that Texas could be better off with different leadership. She was pointed in her arguments, and much less bubbly. "Hutchison to her core is simply a more reserved and dignified person," Jillson said.
Hutchison's campaign declared her the winner.
"Poised and articulate, her leadership qualities were on prominent display," campaign manager Terry Sullivan said in an e-mail to her supporters late Thursday night.
Medina managed to weigh in as the occasional voice of reason when the two major candidates bickered.
"This squabbling isn't getting us anywhere," Medina said at one point.
Hutchison likely didn't help herself with Republican primary voters with her answer on an abortion question. Hutchison said she believes Roe v. Wade is appropriate as the law of the land because if it went away and each state decided on its own about abortion, some states might become "abortion havens" where very late-term abortions are performed.
"Right now we have restrictions that are quite reasonable that are the law of the land," she said.
That answer was probably overly complicated for primary voters who want a simple declaration that Roe v. Wade -- the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion -- should be overturned, Jillson said.
Social conservatives reliably turn out in Republican primaries, and they side with Perry on the abortion issue.
Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report from Austin, Texas.
AP EDITOR'S NOTE: Political writer Kelley Shannon has covered Texas politics based in Austin since 2000.