Facing a tough Republican primary fight next year in his bid for a third term, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is brandishing the heavy artillery: Sarah Palin's endorsement of his campaign."If there's a bigger endorsement in the Republican universe, I don't know who it is than Sarah," he declared in a telephone interview over the weekend. He described the Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee as a "close personal friend" who knows my heart."
Palin's nod is indeed an asset for Perry, helping him cement his appeal to social conservatives in the Lone Star State. But his boast also may be intended as a dig at his Republican opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- who herself was a potential 2008 veep choice before Palin got the job. Hutchison is said by some to still be miffed at having been eclipsed by a female governor with much less experience.
During the interview, Perry also had harsh words for his fellow Republicans in Washington, projected confidence that the GOP can make a comeback in 2010 races and questioned why Hutchison
would challenge him in the primary.
Perry's talking points reflect his pride in his record as governor. During the interview, he often guided the conversation toward his tenure. For example, he told me,
We continued to cut taxes ... to pass the most sweeping tort reform in the nation in 2003 ... we balanced our budget, we left $9 billion in our rainy day fund, we passed the most sweeping eminent domain for private property owners in the history of the state ... We did all that with a recession going on.
To buttress his argument, Perry cited several magazines and awards that put Texas at the top of the list in terms of its pro-business climate.
Perry is quick to contrast his leadership record in Texas not just with other states, but with Republicans in Washington. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that Hutchison has spent years in the capital as a U.S. Senator.
As Perry noted:
Washington, DC, has been an abject failure -- even back under Republican leadership. They spent too much money, they lost touch with their values, and they paid a hefty price. And America is now paying a heavy price for their lack of discipline, as this administration is overreaching, spending our children's inheritance, and jeopardizing their future.
Yet Perry is bullish over the GOP's chances in 2010, when, he suggested, "this country swings back and swings back hard and fast to those conservative principles that we know work." He went on to add that "in the state of Texas, we never got away from them, and I don't think Texans want to make a change."
Regarding why he thinks Hutchison would leave the U.S. Senate to contest a sitting Republican governor, Perry responded:
... I think Texans are scratching their heads right now, saying, why would we want to have a primary to change the governorship of Texas -- to possibly change the governorship of Texas -- that could cost up to $50 million, when these two titans clash on that field. Pulling $50 million out of an environment that frankly is a fixed environment of money -- with other races that are very important here as we decide what the makeup of the Texas Legislature is going to be prior to the redistricting year of 2011. Plus, putting in jeopardy a Senate seat that the Democrats could win. The Democrats could send a voice to DC that could be the balance of power when it comes to the issue of whether or not to filibuster or not. There is no legitimate answer to that, other than that's just what the senator wants to do. We know it's not in the best interest of the Republican Party, we know it's not in the best interest of our state, and we know it's not in the best interest of Republicans in Washington, DC, to put that seat in jeopardy.
For her part, Hutchison has said that Perry "is putting his personal political agenda in front of the agenda that will move the state forward," and that she is opposing him "because I believe it is conservative to demand results and hold government accountable - with integrity and responsibility."
While it is unusual for a sitting Republican U.S. senator to challenge a sitting Republican governor, it's also fair to note that Perry is running for a third
term. "In Texas, most of the time, they never even win a second term," he told me when I asked if this is unprecedented. He then reminded me that George W. Bush was the first governor to win a second term since the 1970s, when Texas went to four-year terms from the previous two-year terms.
It's interesting that he notes the former president. I have, of course, seen Perry on television before, but on the phone I am struck by how much he sounds like a young George W. Bush (circa 1999).
This race is going to be intense.