When George W. Bush began being talked about as a Presidential candidate, the story line on him was that he was a well-liked, popular Governor who had bipartisan appeal and support in the state. Outgoing Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock supported him. Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney supported him. Numerous Democratic officeholders in Texas supported him. On the strength of all that, he went on to win Texas by 20 or more points in 2000 and 2004.
Now consider Rick Perry. “Well-liked” and “bipartisan appeal” are not words you would ever associate with him. As for “popular”, it’s true that he has strong support within the Republican Party, which would certainly be an asset in another primary, and it’s true that he won big against a strong, well-funded Democratic opponent this past year. But consider how he did compared to other Republicans on the ballot:
Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Perry 2,737,481 54.97% Porter 2,880,765 59.40% Green 2,903,359 60.02% Keasler 2,906,012 60.48% Lehrmann 2,907,796 59.87% Guzman 2,919,054 60.34% Staples 2,953,775 60.82% Patterson 3,001,736 61.66% Dewhurst 3,049,109 61.78% Abbott 3,151,064 64.05%
Perry received 200,000 to 400,000 fewer votes than other Republicans at the top of the ticket. Those votes went to Democrat Bill White, who got more than 300,000 more votes than the next best Dem on the ticket. He ran six to nine points behind his ballot mates. Compare this to Bush’s gubernatorial re-election in 1998:
Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Bush 2,550,821 68.23% Perry 1,858,837 50.04% Cornyn 2,002,794 54.25% Rylander 1,821,231 49.54% Dewhurst 2,072,604 57.42% Combs 2,021,385 56.29% Garza 2,051,253 56.92% Enoch 2,049,640 58.18% O'Neill 1,891,339 53.52% Abbott 2,104,828 60.10% Hankinson 1,995,811 56.90% Keasler 1,889,069 53.96% Johnson 2,013,959 57.78%
The contrast couldn’t be clearer. A significant number of Democrats voted for Bush in 1998. A significant number of Republicans did not vote for Perry in 2010. And before you ask, no these wayward Republicans did not choose Libertarian Kathie Glass instead. In fact, Glass did worse than every other Lib in a three-way or more race, both in terms of vote total and percentage:
Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Glass 109,211 2.19% Jameson 122,142 2.47% Roland 112,118 2.27% Holdar 148,271 3.04% Donaldson 164,035 3.37% Gary 138,978 2.86% Strange 138,857 2.85% Oxford 144,306 2.98% Armstrong 195,234 4.03% Virasin 139,299 2.89%
So what does this have to do with a Presidential campaign? Well, Perry has no crossover appeal – he has anti-appeal, as a non-trivial number of Republicans won’t vote for him. A six point swing in 2008, about the difference between Perry and Todd Staples from last year, would have been enough to put Barack Obama ahead of John McCain in 2008. To put it another way, having Rick Perry at the top of the ticket next year could do more to make Texas a swing state than anything anyone else has ever done.
Now obviously not all of those Republicans who voted for Bill White instead of Rick Perry last year would vote for Barack Obama. Some would, but many – likely most – would not. But even a three point swing would make things a lot closer; it would have been enough to elect Sam Houston, and would have brought Susan Strawn within a tenth of a percent. Obama still has room to grow among Democrats in Texas, both in terms of better turnout among registered voters, and as we’ll see later holding onto Democratic voters in some parts of the state. How much room do you think Rick Perry has to grow?
Of course there are plenty of other factors to consider here, the economy being first and foremost. If we learned one thing from the 2010 experience, it’s that where you start out and where you end up can be very different, and no one can say what will happen till the campaigning actually begins. As we’ve discussed, Obama consistently polled between eight and 12 points behind McCain in 2008. Wouldn’t you love to see a poll of Texas that matches up Perry and Obama? (Rasmussen has a national poll that shows Obama leading Perry 45-28, but that’s a function of name recognition.) I don’t think Perry does any better in Texas than McCain did against Obama. Maybe I’m wrong and Perry would have a comfortable double-digit lead in a poll that has a reasonable model for a Presidential year. And maybe I’m right and Perry is unable to top 50% and up by only a few. How do you suppose that might change the narrative of this little buzzlet?
Like I said, just a thought. I could very easily be wrong. But either way, I hope that a PPP or someone like them puts a poll in the field, just for grins. Who knows, maybe the result might surprise us.