The swirling force of Texas politics

Candidates Hit the Road Days Before Primary

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images/NBCDFW
    From left, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Gov. Rick Perry and Debra Medina are seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

    Popping into the antique Rogers Hotel, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison finds a cheering crowd waiting to hear her talk down toll roads and say why she's the one who can best defeat a Democrat in November.

    "I can carry our major urban areas. I can carry our local candidates," Hutchison declares, to more applause from her Waxahachie backers. "Help me get the word out!"

    Hutchison and her supporters are trying, but even she admits in the days before voters pick their Republican nominee for governor that her years in Washington have made her a target for her opponent, Gov. Rick Perry, and have made even some voters wonder why she wants to leave.

    Perry, who is favored to collect more votes in Tuesday's primary than Hutchison, even if they have to go to a runoff, has been traveling the state in whirlwind fashion too. He's solidifying his support and reminding voters of his consistent message that Hutchison represents Washington and all that is wrong with it, while he's as Texas as bluebonnets and boots.

    Early voting ended Friday, and both major GOP candidates made an intense final press for turnout, visiting cafes, coffee shops and office buildings across the state. Debra Medina, a lesser-known candidate but a favorite of many tea party voters, could draw enough support to force a runoff.

    In West Texas on Friday, Perry said Congress should be required to balance its budget.

    Wearing ostrich-skin boots emblazoned with the Texas revolutionary battle slogan "Come and Take It," he gushed about the relative strength of the Texas economy and said his conservative leadership helped make that happen.

    "You have to say 'no,"' Perry nearly shouted at an Amarillo event. "In Washington, everybody can be popular because they can just print more money ... print more money and spend more money."

    At the ClayDesta building in Midland, oilman Clayton Williams, a Republican who famously lost to Democratic Gov. Ann Richards in 1990, was in the audience. The well-coifed Perry almost sounded like an evangelist preacher as he touted his accomplishments and took questions from mostly adoring supporters.

    One woman expressed fears that Texas education officials were going to "take God out of our history books." Perry said that wouldn't happen on his watch and then hugged her.

    He his campaign is about "experienced executive leadership."

    "When a company's been running right and making a profit, I don't think they want to can the CEO," he said.

    Hutchison -- on a long seven-city campaign trip Tuesday skirting the Dallas-Fort Worth area in snowy weather -- repeated her charge that Perry has been in office so long that he has grown arrogant, while ignoring big problems like the high school dropout rate and property tax rates.

    "Texas is the greatest state in America," she said. "I want to make sure my children can say the same thing in 10 or 20 years."

    Visiting farmers and ranchers, she repeatedly criticized the Trans Texas Corridor, a mostly abandoned toll road network that Perry proposed that made farmers and ranchers irate because of its threat to private property.

    "We're really behind her," said Tommy Calvert, president of the Denton County farm bureau chapter. "We feel like Kay Bailey supports farmers and ranchers in their endeavors with property rights."

    Hutchison unveiled a new Web video at the Peppermill Diner in Decatur, with the star of the video, Gainesville-area landowner Jean Gronow, 70. Gronow's rural land was threatened by the corridor.

    Afterward, talking to Hutchison, Gronow said, "I look kind of angry in it."

    Hutchison replied, "Well, you should be angry," and said the corridor won't really be dead until she's governor.

    At a more boisterous rally at the Railhead Smokehouse in Fort Worth, Hutchison told the barbecue-eating crowd that she's a fifth-generation Texan. She bashed Perry, saying he has raised taxes, hired cronies at the Capitol and tried to mandate that school girls get the HPV vaccine.

    Kim Miller, 47, she said she likes what Rick Perry has done in office and thought Hutchison should probably remain in Washington.

    Amarillo-area rancher Laddie Cluck, 68, said he was afraid Hutchison might be "too liberal" as governor. He said he had been warming up to the lesser-known Medina until she refused to rule out that the government might have been involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She later tried to back away from that.

    "That turned me plum off of her," Cluck said.

    The Democratic front-runner, former Houston Mayor Bill White, visited the Rio Grande Valley this past week as he prepared to dispatch rival Farouk Shami, a political newcomer and hair-care magnate. Flitting through the library at South Texas College's Weslaco campus, White tapped studying students on the shoulder and with a wide grin sought their support.

    He encouraged 20-year-old Sergio Trevino, president of the campus student government, to help in his campaign and sign up for his Facebook page. Trevino said he told White that he worried about disparities in public schools and a lack of youth involvement in the community. Trevino liked that White looked him in the eye when they spoke.

    "He's a very straightforward type of guy," he said.

    Hutchison and Perry were both campaigning in the urban areas of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth on the final weekend.

    "My instinct is that we will do well. We plan on winning without a runoff," Perry said Friday, but added, "it's not the end of the world if we don't."

    Hutchison said she's trying to get voters to see past Perry's anti-Washington message.

    "I have protected Texas. I fought for Texas taxpayer dollars back to Texas very successfully," she said.

    The wild card could be Medina. Election Day will determine how strong her support remains. And if Perry and Hutchison make a runoff, both will court Medina's backers.

    A group of Medina supporters gathered across the street from Hutchison's event in Waxahachie. They waited and waved their placards again as Hutchison left, and Hutchison waved back.

    "I appreciate you," she shouted. "I do."

    Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman contributed to this report from Weslaco. Jay Root reported from West Texas.