Gov. Rick Perry leads his two Republican primary opponents with 45 percent support in a new poll, and though it shows him within striking distance of winning the nomination March 2 he may find himself in a runoff with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Republican activist Debra Medina, whose campaign has attracted insurgent Tea Party voters, trails her better-known opponents by double digits in the poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin American-Statesman and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The poll found Perry leading with 45 percent support among likely Republican voters, with Hutchison at 29 percent and Medina at 17 percent. Eight percent were undecided.
The Feb. 2-10 telephone survey conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates Inc. polled 1,508 registered voters, including 464 likely Republican voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Polling was conducted before Medina, in an interview Thursday, refused to dismiss theories that the government was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. She later said the attacks were carried out solely by Muslim terrorists.
Pollster Mickey Blum said normally poll numbers for an incumbent such as Perry would be mirrored in election returns, but that this is an unusual election.
"He looks good at this point: a 16-point lead and now the third candidate imploding," Blum said. "He doesn't need very much to get to 50 percent. He just needs (Medina's) people to either stay home or vote for him."
If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two finishers would be April 13.
Perry and Medina have run on an anti-Washington message. Blum said the survey found a definite anti-incumbent, anti-Washington mood and noted that 44 percent of Medina's supporters said they wanted to send a message to Washington.
"This is the year of the anti-incumbent and year of the outsider," Blum said. "Perry, as the longest-serving governor -- and running to extend that record even longer -- has still managed to make himself seem like the outsider."
Hutchison spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said Perry should be concerned that a majority of the primary voters want someone else, but Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor expects to win. Medina said she is not expecting to lose any ground because of her controversial remarks and that her Web site has seen increased traffic.
The survey suggests Perry leads his challengers among likely GOP primary voters among all groups, including women. The governor edges Hutchison, 39 percent to 34 percent, among female voters, and he has a commanding lead among men. He has more support among Republicans in virtually every region of the state, even in Hutchison's home region of Dallas-Fort Worth.
"People don't dislike or disapprove of her," Blum said. "But among Republican primary voters, she's not quite as conservative as they are and, therefore, is facing an uphill battle."
Hutchison may be hurt some by her support for the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Forty-eight percent of the likely Republican voters said they would not vote for a candidate who supports Roe v. Wade.
The poll found Perry is not particularly popular. Less than half all of those surveyed approve of the job he's doing as governor and nearly 40 percent disapprove.
The poll also looked ahead to the November general election, asking all 1,508 respondents for whom they would vote, assuming former Houston Mayor Bill White is the Democratic nominee. White trailed Perry in a general election matchup 43 percent to 37 percent and he trailed Hutchison 42 percent to 34 percent.
Blum said that gives White a solid base even though about two-thirds of the registered voters surveyed said they did not know enough about him to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.
White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said the poll shows trouble for Perry because he is under 50 percent in a race against White, who has never run statewide.
The poll did not measure White's strength against Democratic primary opponent businessman Farouk Shami of Houston.
The survey offers a hint about which voters the major candidates would seek to attract in the fall. Perry and Hutchison both do best among men, white voters, older voters and those with incomes above $100,000. White does best among the young, Hispanic and African-American voters and those with incomes below $50,000.