A Republican primary for governor in Texas is still a long way off—incumbent Gov. Rick Perry isn’t up for reelection until 2010. But the ideological battle lines are already being drawn. If a race between Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Perry materializes, it will likely be a nasty intra-party fight, and one that Perry has been anticipating for a while.
Talking to top Perry consultant Dave Carney, it seems the incumbent has long had a game plan.
"We've polled this a few times because there has always been this threat,” Carney tells Politics. “There's just no way a person with [Hutchison’s] record could win the primary."
Hutchison’s more moderate stances on issues like immigration and abortion are likely to be major lines of attack if she does launch a primary challenge, and that means a primary race that could splinter, and potentially weaken, the party.
For his part, Perry is already staking out the conservative ground on abortion. This past Thursday he touted his pro-life credentials at a news conference that talked up a bill to create a specialty pro-life license plate. His pitch, according to the Dallas Morning News: "If there's been a more pro-life governor in Texas history, I'd be hard pressed to think who it was."
The pro-choice Hutchison was absent from the event.
Not only is the potential primary battle already making waves within the party, but it has set off some serious political maneuvering for a race that, as the Houston Chronicle points out, may never even materialize.
Hutchison’s potential candidacy has set off a scramble for her senate seat. She has left open the possibility of resigning her seat sometime next year, which would set up a special election to fill the remainder of her term.
The mere possibility of it has already caused one major Democrat to abandon a bid for governor and instead jump into the fray for Hutchison’s senate seat.
Ultimately Dave Carney says he isn’t even sure that Hutchison is serious about a run for governor. But if she’s betting that Perry won’t decide to run again, he says don’t count on it.
"I think there are a lot of people in [Hutchison's] camp who think the governor won't seek reelection,” Carney says. “Gov. Perry is running again. I don't know how much more emphatic I can be about that."
Shane D’Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org