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Friday, July 15, 2011

Beldar disputes pollster Jan van Lohuizen's bizarre assertion that Gov. Rick Perry "never really has done all that well in Texas"

I neither know, nor know of, political pollster Jan van Lohuizen, but in this Q&A with Business Insider (hat-tip Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard), the editors point out that Dr. van Louhizen's PhD in political science came from Rice University in 1978, and they assert that he "know[s] Texas as well as anyone." And they point out that he's served as "George W. Bush's pollster in both of his presidential election campaigns," and that Dr. van Louhizen "is highly regarded by political professionals in both parties." I have no reason to doubt any of that.

But they then quote Dr. van Lohuizen as saying this about the potential presidential prospects of Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

... I don’t know if [Perry] will run but my sense of it is that he will — quite a few of the issues he pushed in the legislative session and in the follow-up special session were clearly designed to seed a run for President.

His assets are that he is a good communicator, appeals to tea party types, and he can point to the strength of the Texas economy. On the liabilities side, however, he did not get the things he introduced for that purpose, and the criticism of the balanced budget he passed is getting rougher and rougher: it is basically as flimsy as Gerry [sic ] Brown’s balanced budget. Add to that that he never really has done all that well in Texas. He got a 2nd full term with less than 40% of the vote in a 4 way race, and barely avoided a runoff in his own primary against a weakened Senator and an unknown.

Add as well that some of the issues he is associated with are deeply problematic to conservatives, including his record on property rights, increasing taxes, ‘pay to play’ fundraising and any amount of other raw material for opposition researchers that 10 years as Governor generates.

I agree in part with the first paragraph, and I won't quibble with parts of the second; but I think the end of the second paragraph and the entire third paragraph are both badly misleading — indeed, contrary to objective reality.

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I don't have a strong sense of whether Gov. Perry will or won't run, and I have utterly no inside information either way. As my sidebar suggests, I've got another current non-candidate I'd like to see drafted for the GOP nomination; and I'm not one of those trying to drum up support for a Perry candidacy, at least not right now. But I've voted for Gov. Perry many times for many different offices over the last twenty years, and I can easily imagine myself doing so if he were part of a ticket running against Obama.

Nevertheless, the hot-button issues from the last Texas legislature (including special session(s)) to which Dr. van Lohuizen refers — voter ID, sanctuary cities, border security — are controversial at both the state and federal levels anyway. It would be a very dim Republican governor anywhere, but especially along the Mexican border, who wasn't keenly focused on those issues, regardless of whether he or she has aspirations for higher office.

So where Dr. van Lohuizen sees smoke signals, I see smoke puffs, frankly. I don't think Perry's interaction with the last Legislature furnishes very persuasive evidence that Perry was, or is, planning to run for POTUS. But that's a matter of interpretation, not observation; if Dr. van Lohuizen reaches the opposite conclusion from mine, that doesn't trouble me at all.

As for matters fiscal: Although we're comparatively better off than most other states,Texas still needs to squeeze value out of every penny, and like every other state government, ours has been trying to find creative ways to avoid raising taxes. There are reasonable arguments to be made that our proposed solutions here in Texas include some one-offs and some gimmicks; there's room for debate about our budget, and there's been quite a bit of it.

But there's not a rational soul in the universe who'd trade Texas' economic and fiscal situation for California's. Whatever details may underlie Dr. van Lohuizen's conclusion, to the extent he's trying to make a comparison between California and Texas, or between Jerry Brown and Rick Perry, he's simply full of bull. I have a hard time imagining two more vividly contrasting politicians, in fact, than Brown and Perry, both on matters of style and of substance.

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Much, much more perplexing and troubling to me is Dr. van Lohuizen's assertion that Perry "never really has done all that well in Texas."

Rick Perry first won office as a Texas state representative (as a Democrat). After making a splash as a legislator and changing to the GOP, he won election over a popular incumbent Democrat, Jim Hightower, to become Texas Commissioner of Agriculture in 1990. He was reelected with 61% of the vote in 1994. Perry followed the legendary Bob Bullock to become Texas Lieutenant Governor in 1998 in a hard-fought race against Dem John Sharp, who'd previously won state-wide election as Texas Comptroller. By 1998, of course, it was already widely expected that then-Gov. George W. Bush would run for president in 2000, so those who elected Perry to the Lieutenant Governorship in 1998 certainly weren't surprised when Perry succeeded Dubya as Governor at year-end 2000.

Dr. van Lohuizen's assertion simply ignores the fact that Perry then won reelection in his own right in 2002 with 58% of the vote — a blowout.

Dr. van Lohuizen is correct that Perry's re-election margin in 2006, in a four-way general election field, wasn't nearly so impressive. It was a very odd election for a number of reasons besides the size of the field.

But I simply have no clue what Dr. van Lohuizen was talking about when he described Texas' senior sitting U.S. Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, as "a weakened senator" before or during the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. What are we supposed to think from that — that she was like Idaho's Larry Craig, barely hanging onto any office anywhere? That's utter nonsense that's insulting to Sen. Hutchison and to the 450,000+ Texans who voted for her in the 2010 primary, but it also undervalues the opinions of the 759,000+ Texans (51%) who voted for Perry.

To the contrary, Sen. Hutchison wasn't "weakened," but had instead long telegraphed her intention to leave the Senate to run for the Texas governorship. She had powerful, deep, and long-standing connections in the Texas GOP's old guard (going back to the John Tower/G.H.W. Bush days of the 1960s and 1970s Texas GOP). She had (and has) a talented staff and an experienced and successful campaign team. And she had tons of campaign money and volunteers. In sum, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was a formidable candidate whom Rick Perry nevertheless beat convincingly and without a runoff.

And yes, Sen. Hutchison's campaign had years of raw material about Perry from which to do opposition research, and she had all the resources and incentives anyone could want in order to exploit to the hilt any Perry missteps from days past. The exact same stuff that Dr. van Lohuizen cryptically references in the third of the paragraphs I've quoted — the supposed "issues [Perry] is associated with [which] are deeply problematic to conservatives" — absolutely failed to catch on in Sen. Hutchison's bare-knuckled attacks on Perry during the 2010 GOP primary. I'm unaware of any reason to think that those same attacks would catch on when made by, say, Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty or Michelle Bachman — and Dr. van Lohuizen doesn't give us any such reason.

Indeed, Dr. van Lohuizen notes, accurately, that Perry "appeals to tea party types," but he fails to mention that the third candidate who ran against both Perry and Hutchison in the 2010 GOP primary — Debra Medina, whom Dr. van Lohuizen fairly describes as an "unknown" — was a self-proclaimed Tea Partier who briefly surged based on pure pro-Tea Party movement/anti-incumbency sentiment. Both Perry and Hutchison had strong potential vulnerabilities to such a candidacy; sitting GOP politicians in many other states lost their primaries to just such candidates.

But Perry adeptly seized the Tea Party movement's themes, parried (no pun intended) the anti-incumbency attacks, and then rode a Tea Party/constitutional conservative/anti-Obama surge of 2.7 million votes into a crushing 55% to 42% general election victory over popular Houston ex-mayor (and former Clinton Deputy Secretary of Energy and Texas Democratic Chairman) Bill White — easily the strongest and best financed Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Dubya whipped incumbent Ann Richards in 1994.

Running and winning overwhelmingly on an anti-incumbency, anti-government theme — when you've been part of government for almost three decades yourself — is a fairly deft piece of political footwork, in my humble opinion.

I'm pretty sure, in fact, that Rick Perry has won every election he's ever run in. He's definitely won every state-wide race for public office he's ever run in Texas. And he's now served as Texas' chief executive longer than anyone else in a history that dates back to 1836.

How a PhD in political science can interpret that as "never really [doing] all that well in Texas," I simply cannot fathom, and I therefore respectfully dissent. Now, it's true that Gov. Perry hasn't yet been quite as successful as his immediate predecessor was at parlaying the Texas governorship into higher national officer. And to win higher office, Perry would once again have to overcome his deservedly lingering shame from having been Texas manager for Al Gore's aborted 1988 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But we've mostly forgiven him for that here already, and Ronald Reagan was a converted Dem who saw the light. So: short of running and winning the presidency, just how much more Texas history would Rick Perry have to write to satisfy Dr. van Lohuizen that Perry's managed to make something of himself on the Texas political scene?

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UPDATE (Sat Jul 16 @ 2am): Hilary Hylton has a nicely detailed and perceptive examination of Perry's history with Gore. The Perry campaign should be absolutely thrilled with this essay, since it ends up not only "pulling the tooth" before it could be used to bite Perry, but indeed it presents a compelling tale of Perry's conversion to the GOP as part of a contemporaneous and much larger shift to the GOP throughout Texas.

Posted by Beldar at 12:57 AM in 2012 Election, Politics (2011), Politics (Texas), Texas | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Phelps made the following comment | Jul 15, 2011 10:29:30 AM | Permalink

C'mon, he's only been elected governor three times. Hasn't everyone done that?

(2) DRJ made the following comment | Jul 15, 2011 5:11:01 PM | Permalink

Well said, and I plan to link your post every time I see someone claim Texans won't support Perry. I'm leery of making predictions but it's crazy talk to suggest Obama or any liberal, including liberal Republicans, could beat Perry in Texas.

By the way, Dr.Jan van Lohuizen is profiled profiled here and his work for Bush discussed here. It appears he's a respected Republican pollster. In addition, according to Fundrace, he's also a 2007 Romney contributor.

(3) Jimmuy made the following comment | Jul 16, 2011 1:48:58 PM | Permalink

Don't forget that in the other election for gov, Kinky was nothing but a Democratic plant to siphon votes from Perry as a pretend libertarian. In addition to seeing Kinky bumper-stickers in the driveways of houses which later had 0bama signs, I personally know that one of his paid campaign staff later went to Iowa to work on the Edwards campaign (which was just another siphon operation to get 0bama the win).

(4) Michael made the following comment | Jul 16, 2011 9:56:10 PM | Permalink

I haven't voted for a significant Democrat, Bill White excepted after I voted Senator Kay Bailey in the primary, since 1972 when I was on the other side of a cultural divide on the VN war. And I think the main probelm that Perry would have is that he would be on the other side of a cultural divide were he to go national. I think he wins in Texas because he is the 'stud' in the race. The other boys in the fraternity don't see that much reason to oppose him. See what happened to the Texas A&M board member when he did. His manipulating the board of investigation in the Willingham review and his contributors being on the Texas tomorrow fund being 'paid off' with grants would be a problem fom him when his opponents look so hard as to review the Dallas Morning News artcles on the subject; so 'not done real well' I agree isn't very good as a backward looking statment but maybe is true in terms of building an administrative record that will sail forward well nationally.

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