Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison Kicks Off Campaign for Texas Governor

By Jay Root | August 17, 2009 | 5:46 AM EDT
Galveston, Texas (AP) - The senior senator from Texas is taking aim at the state's longest serving governor in a race expected to divide the Republican Party.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison returns to her native Gulf Coast on Monday morning for the start of a five-day, 19-city campaign announcement tour that will take her to nearly every corner of the state.
Hutchison hopes to trade in a 16-year Senate career for Texas' top executive job. She first will have to pry the GOP nomination from Gov. Rick Perry, who has held the office since 2000. Hutchison plans to give up her seat this fall to focus on the governor's race, which features the Texas GOP's two best-known leaders.
Republicans, who hold every statewide office, haven't seen this kind of epic intraparty battle since they began dominating Texas politics in the 1990s.
"They've already got the gloves off," said University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan. "We haven't had anything like this in Texas for quite a while."
Before Hutchinson's tour even began, both campaigns released videos criticizing the other. The Perry camp called Hutchison "Kay Bailout," slamming her vote favor of last year's $700 billion financial rescue package.
Perry had a 12-point lead over Hutchison in a July University of Texas poll, with about a third undecided several months before the March primary. A relative unknown, GOP activist Debra Medina of Wharton, also has announced a run for the nomination.
The winner then must face whomever the Democrats put up next November. The only major Democratic candidate to announce so far is Fort Worth businessman Tom Schieffer.
Experts predict the Republican race will touch off an ideological divide in the party, with Perry taking up the causes of social conservatives and Hutchison, who has supported the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, striking a more moderate tone by comparison.
Cal Jillson, political scientist at Southern Methodist University, wonders whether Hutchison can oust the sitting governor.
"The question is: Does she have the energy and the forcefulness to take it from him," Jillson said. "In important ways, it is a battle for the future of the Republican Party in Texas."
For Hutchison, 66, the battle begins Monday morning at La Marque High School, where she was a cheerleader, coronation queen and Miss La Marque High School in her senior year of 1961, when it was a segregated white school. Today, most of the students are minorities.
There, she will be joined by two high-profile endorsers -- Karen Hughes, the former spokeswoman and diplomat from George W. Bush's administration, and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, her campaign said.
Campaign officials declined Sunday to share any details of her stump speech but promised it would contain some contrasts with Perry.
Also Monday, she planned to visit Austin, where she was a college cheerleader and graduated from the University of Texas Law School -- only one of seven women in her class. She also will hold a rally in Houston, where she worked as a TV reporter and held a seat in the Texas Legislature.
Other supporters, including former Education Secretary Rod Paige, will be sprinkled onto the 19-city tour, officials said.
The tour ends Friday in El Paso, about 800 miles from where it was scheduled to begin. By then, Hutchison will have visited the piney woods of eastern Texas, the bustling border towns of Laredo and Harlingen, the northern Panhandle and far western Texas.
The senior senator from Texas is taking aim at the state's longest serving governor in a race expected to divide the Republican Party.