Old Guard Caught Off Guard In Texas,
Relative Unknown Medina Shakes Up Race With Perry and Hutchison
DALLAS—An obscure candidate with backing from the "tea party" movement threatens to deny a decisive victory to either Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Texas.
Little-known Debra Medina made a splash two weeks ago in a televised debate. She criticized the governor for "painting a rosy picture that doesn't exist" about the Texas economy and said her rivals' "squabbling isn't getting us anywhere."
Mrs. Medina "stole the show," said Harvey Kronberg, longtime editor of the Quorum Report newsletter in Austin.
On Friday night, Mrs. Medina will try to prove that her debate showing was no fluke.
A nurse and former Republican Party leader in Wharton County, in south Texas, Mrs. Medina is running on a platform of small government, states' rights, and the elimination of property taxes and gun-registration laws.
While she appeals to many of the same primary voters as Mr. Perry, she has been trying to tap into Texans' anti-incumbent fervor. Mr. Perry has been governor since 2000 and is seeking a third full term; Ms. Hutchison has served in Washington since 1993.
The winner of the March 2 primary is likely to face Bill White, the Democratic mayor of Houston, in November.
A Rasmussen Reports poll of 831 likely Republican voters, taken three days after the Jan. 14 debate, gave Mrs. Medina 12% support, a jump from the 4% or so she had in earlier surveys. She appeared to have drawn new backing from undecided voters as well as from the Perry and Hutchison camps.
To be sure, Mrs. Medina remained far below Mr. Perry's 43% and Ms. Hutchison's 33% voter backing.
And though she has raised $100,000 since the Jan. 14 debate, according to her staff, bringing her total to more than $360,000, the establishment candidates have raised millions of dollars and have already started funding ad campaigns.
They also outpace her on the endorsement front. Sarah Palin is slated to campaign for Mr. Perry in Houston on Feb. 7, and last week former President George H.W. Bush came out for Ms. Hutchison.
Mrs. Medina said her goal was to win the primary, and that victory wasn't out of reach. "I believe we are fighting the very same battle the Founding Fathers fought," she said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison last week
Her current level of support wouldn't be enough to win her a place on the November ballot, but it could keep the other candidates from receiving the 51% of the vote needed to avoid an April runoff.
"As long as Medina is in double figures, you have to figure that a runoff is pretty imminent," said James R. Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, a program at the University of Texas in Austin that does nonpartisan polling and research.
Spokeswomen for the Perry and Hutchison campaigns predicted their candidates would win outright on March 2.
Mrs. Medina is critical of both Mr. Perry and Ms. Hutchison, calling them "two sides of the same coin." But she has reserved some of her sharpest jabs for the governor, whom she described in an interview as the "jumpy, fidgety frat boy sitting on stage with me two weeks ago."
In response to Mrs. Medina's remark, Catherine Frazier, a spokesman for the governor, said: "Under Gov. Perry's leadership, Texas is the strongest state in the nation. If that is what she thinks about where Texas is headed, that's unfortunate."
Dr. Henson of the Texas Politics Project was among the political mavens who thought Mr. Perry would prevail in a runoff, because he was most likely to capture Mrs. Medina's voters.
But others thought Ms. Hutchison would benefit from the extra campaign time a runoff would afford and from Mrs. Medina's attacks on the governor, which the senator encouraged during the first debate.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we see more fire coming in from Gov. Perry in the direction of Debra Medina," said Ken Emanuelson, a leader of the tea-party movement in Dallas, which worked to ensure that she was included in both debates.
By LESLIE EATON @ WSJ
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