Getty Images for Meet the Press
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) speaks as she is interviewed by moderator David Gregory during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios February 1, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, picking sides in the volatile campaign for Texas governor, belittled Gov. Rick Perry as a "real talker" Tuesday and said U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was the true conservative in the race.
"We westerners know the difference between a real talker and the real deal," Cheney told cheering supporters at a historic terminal building at Hobby Airport in Houston. "When it comes to being conservative, Kay Bailey Hutchison is the real deal."
The endorsement announcement was delayed by about two hours so Hutchison could make it back to Texas from Washington, where she has served in the Senate since 1993.
Still, before the Houston event began, the Perry campaign criticized Hutchison for missing a vote in Washington -- dealing with the nomination of a federal judge -- to attend the event and said she "cannot be counted upon to be a full-time senator for Texas."
After the rally, Cheney and Hutchison were off to a fundraiser at the home of Houston businessman Dan Tutcher, former president of Enbridge Energy Co.
Cheney's blessing represents the highest profile endorsement Hutchison has gotten so far. Support from the former vice president, who remains popular with many conservative activists, could help Hutchison shore up her right flank.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Cheney may feel more comfortable about Hutchison's knowledge of national security issues -- an area that continues to provoke passionate speeches from the former vice president.
Jillson said the nod could help Hutchison with some social conservatives who view her with suspicion, but only a little.
"You'd rather have it than not, but it's not a game-changer," Jillson said.
Perry, who is stoking populist fires with antiestablishment rhetoric, has dismissed the Cheney endorsement as the usual dealings of Washington insiders. He is also reminding supporters that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has cast her lot with him.
Last year's Republican vice presidential nominee endorsed Perry months ago, saying he "does what is right regardless of whether it's popular."
"He sticks to his guns," she wrote in a January endorsement letter, "and you know now how I feel about guns!"