From The Dallas Morning News:
The Republican primary for governor has been caustic and personal. A six-week runoff campaign, if it comes to that, could get even worse.
So it won’t be easy for the eventual winner to put Humpty Dumpty together again after today’s votes are cast. And even if Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison can set aside the savage attacks and divisiveness, Democrats are lying in wait armed with all the mud they’ve slung at each other for more than a year.
Political history suggests a number of steps combatants can take to heal a party after such a contentious fight. If they don’t, donors and die-hards may sit it out or even migrate to the other party.
Foremost, the loser must absolve the winner – publicly – for all the nasty but true, nasty but half-true, and nasty but unprovable things said during the campaign.
Likewise, the winner must renounce his or her attacks and forgive those from the other side, while emphasizing what a great and honorable person the vanquished candidate is.
Because this particular contest pits Texas’ two politicians already at the top of the political food chain, it’s hard to cite exact parallels outside the animal kingdom. There’s only one alpha dog. The rest must submit or go into exile.
But there’s a lot to make up for. Perry has labeled Hutchison “Washington Kay” and the “Queen of Earmarks.” He has called her “out of touch with Texas” and accused her of having a “checkered ethical past.”
Hutchison has called him arrogant, and a “Republican of convenience,” not conviction.
One model might be the Barack Obama-Hillary Rodham Clinton rivalry in 2008, pitting two Democratic stars in that party’s most prolonged primary. Once Clinton conceded, and with the White House in reach, they traveled together to Unity, N.H. – a gesture that sent a strong signal to die-hards in both camps.
Of course, the Texas governor has no prize akin to a Cabinet post with which to entice a rival. It may be harder for Perry and Hutchison to find common ground.
“With Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, it has all been about personal ambition. They have nothing to come together around,” said longtime Democratic strategist Ed Martin.
Aides to Perry and Hutchison said Monday that their bosses will support the GOP ticket no matter who is on it. But it’s hard to imagine the two joining for a victory handclasp, or either traveling the state to turn out votes for the other. (The third candidate, Wharton County [Tea] party activist Debra Medina, has made no pledge to support either rival.)
Even with the fracture, Texas Republicans head into the general election with plenty of advantages. The party hasn’t lost a statewide election in 16 years, and on much of the statewide ballot, well-funded incumbents are taking on underdog Democrats.
But Democrats have been watching the GOP titans tear each other apart for over a year, with a certain detached glee.
All the attacks Hutchison has leveled at Perry over cronyism, mismanagement of the state budget and highway department, the dropout rate and more can easily be recycled for the fall campaign.
The primary has also exposed Hutchison’s weaknesses – her struggle to shake off the “Washington Kay” image that Perry painted, in an anti-incumbent year.
“If Texans are frustrated with things not getting done in Austin then the bums they need to throw out are Republicans. They’ve been running everything,” Martin said. “That leaves the battleground wide open” for likely Democratic nominee [former Houston mayor] Bill White.
Many voters perceive […] fundamental differences – on style and policy – between Perry and Hutchison.
Some Republicans argued that a spirited primary produces a nominee who has been vetted, tested and tempered like steel, and who is therefore less vulnerable.
Others who’ve watched the mudfest with some concern aren’t sure what to expect if there’s a runoff.
“You kind of want to yell down to the torpedo room: You got anything left?” said Dallas County Republican chairman Jonathan Neerman. Still, he said, “I do not think it has been as nasty as it could have been.”
He noted that various polls show that many GOP voters like both Perry and Hutchison. Once the choice is made, many won’t find it so hard to redirect their support, especially if the loser pitches in.