From The Dallas Morning News:
AUSTIN – As the GOP struggles nationally to redefine itself, the debate over what it means to be a Republican is playing out in Texas, too, through Kay Bailey Hutchison’s challenge to Gov. Rick Perry.
Hutchison says the “core principles” that will help the party grow are not social, but economic: smaller government, lower taxes and free enterprise.
Perry’s appeal is to a GOP base that sees social issues such as abortion as a litmus test of party purity.
In Texas, where Republicans hold every statewide office, some are watching the Hutchison-Perry race as a test of whether big-tent conservatives or the GOP’s social-conservative wing will shape the party’s future just as Democrats begin to show signs of being competitive again.
“You’ve got a very hard case to make that Kay Bailey Hutchison wouldn’t be the stronger general election candidate,” said Charles Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report. “To me, she projects moderation, which is great – except in a Republican primary.”
Recent GOP primaries have averaged around 650,000 voters, and religious conservatives have dominated the outcome.
Next year’s primary could attract more than 1 million voters. Both candidates are well known: Perry has been governor since 2000, and Hutchison has served in the Senate since 1993.
Hutchison’s political team believes its campaign would benefit from a higher turnout and is targeting center-right voters, including suburban women and economic conservatives.
Hutchison supports embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights, though she backs restrictions on abortion such as a ban on federal funding for organizations that perform abortion and a ban on late-term procedures.
The Republican governor has stepped up his appeal to social conservatives in advance of the GOP primary in March. He has promoted anti-abortion bills in the Legislature, cultivated politically active pastors and appeared at anti-tax “tea party” protests, where he led the crowd in chanting “states rights!” and expressed sympathy for those supporting secession.
And he’s leaving no doubt where he comes down on the question of how to build the party.
“I don’t make any apologies to anybody for being a true-blue conservative, both a social conservative and a fiscal conservative,” Perry said Thursday night on a teleconference, dubbed “Tea Party 2.0,” with opponents of government spending and corporate bailouts.
Nationally, the Republican debate over its future follows losses in two successive election cycles. Moderates say the GOP must become more inclusive or risk permanent minority status; conservatives say the party succeeds only when it rallies around clear principles. Recently, the debate was crystallized when former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the party had to accept that voters want a more activist government, and Vice President Dick Cheney said he would prefer Rush Limbaugh’s vision of Republicanism to Powell’s.
In Texas, the Republican Party has suffered some losses in the Legislature and at the county level, but it remains dominant statewide. Democrats have not won a statewide election since 1994.
From Talking Points Memo:
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the Houston Chronicle that his co-Senator, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, could potentially resign her Senate seat pretty soon in order to campaign full-time in her GOP primary challenge against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry.
“My guess,” Cornyn said, is that Hutchison will resign “this fall sometime.”
A resignation at that point in time would allow Perry to appoint an interim Senator who would serve until a May 2010 special election — an affair that Cornyn would very much prefer to avoid, given the potentially strong Democratic campaigns of Houston Mayor Bill White and ex-Comptroller John Sharp.