Perry skeptical, Hutchison certain

Despite his opponent’s seriousness, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) isn’t entirely certain that he will have a primary challenger next year.

But to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the question is settled.

“I don’t know why he’s skeptical. I think I’ve given every signal that I know how to give that I’m running for governor,” she said in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday.

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In an hourlong interview last week with a dozen or so Washington reporters, Perry said he is “still skeptical” that Hutchison will be on the ballot when the March 2 primary rolls around.

“The idea that we are about to spend $50 million in a Republican primary is asinine to me,” Perry told reporters. For one thing, he said, Hutchison’s job is not finished.

“There are still opportunities in Washington for her to do the job she’s been elected to do,” Perry added.

Hutchison, a three-term senator, has said repeatedly she will resign to focus all her attention on the governor’s race, though she has yet to set a specific timetable for her departure. But on Wednesday, Hutchison hinted she may be ready to depart once the healthcare debate is over.

“I’m going to stay and fight the healthcare takeover, because I think it’s the most important issue we might face in my entire term, so I’m going to try to do everything I can to fulfill my responsibility to Texas, which is why I can’t be exactly clear when I would leave,” Hutchison said. “But I do think it’s important for people to know that I’m committed to running for governor.”

When she does call it quits and return to Texas to run full time, Hutchison will open the floodgates on a special Senate election that will be just as heated as the governor’s race. Four major Republicans and two well-funded Democrats are set to run, while other prominent Republicans could jump in before the special election, likely to be held sometime next spring.

— R.W.


GOP candidates tread lightly on fringe

Republican candidates for office have a balancing act ahead of them this cycle.

A pair of leading GOP congressional candidates met with reporters Wednesday at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) headquarters. Both talked about the fringe elements of the party in different ways, but their equivocating on the issue was instructive of what could await over the next 13 months.

Democrats will repeatedly hit Republicans over the actions of this subgroup of the party, which includes those engaging in outbursts at town hall events and so-called “birthers” who question whether President Barack Obama is a citizen. It can be a difficult issue for the candidates to deal with.

Attorney and businessman Jon Barela, who is trying to reclaim New Mexico’s 1st district from freshman Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), talked about the GOP’s occasionally “divisive” rhetoric.

When pushed, he tempered himself a bit, noting that he thinks the Democrats are also guilty of such rhetoric sometimes, and that, while their actions may be wrong, people are genuinely concerned.

“The town hall phenomenon was one that I think occurred because people were highly frustrated. They didn’t think that their voices were being heard,” Barela said. “And when you do that, tensions will run high with the electorate. I do not condone, however, disrespectful or disruptive behavior.”

Colorado state Rep. Cory Gardner has been forced to tackle the issue a little more head-on. Democrats have labeled him a “birther” for failing to say definitively that Obama is a citizen of the United States.

Gardner, who is challenging freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), insisted he doesn’t fit the classification, but he continues to tread lightly on the movement.

“[Democrats] are wrong; they’re grasping at straws,” Gardner said. “I’m not running for Congress to be a notary public. Bill and Hillary Clinton probably spent countless millions of dollars trying to figure out whether he was or wasn’t a citizen. That’s not why I’m running for Congress.”

— A.B.


Club for Growth dips toe in Bennett primary again

The Club for Growth took another step Wednesday toward opposing Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in his 2010 primary, sending a second piece of mail to the 3,200 expected delegates to next year’s Utah GOP convention.

The latest mailer continues to label Bennett’s Healthy Americans Act “government-run healthcare” and quotes extensively from reviews of Bennett’s bill in the National Review and The American Spectator, both of which are conservative magazines.

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“The more you know about Sen. Bennett’s plan, the worse it looks,” Club President Chris Chocola said in a statement. “Every Utahan ought to be concerned that Sen. Bennett wants to raise their taxes and give politicians and bureaucrats the authority to decide which health insurance plans they can purchase.”

The Club hasn’t taken an official side in the primary between Bennett and state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, but previously it contacted delegates and ran a television ad critical of Bennett’s healthcare bill.

The delegates have the power to select a nominee or, if no candidate achieves 60 percent of the vote, send two candidates into a head-to-head primary.

— A.B.

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