By Brent Budowsky - 05/03/10 09:41 PM EDT
In the political futures market, I’ll take the points and bet Democrat Bill White is elected the next governor of Texas. White’s challenge to incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R) makes Texas a big state to watch in 2010.
In a recent cover story, Newsweek lionized Perry as the ruggedly handsome Marlboro man with thick waves of hair who might be the next Ronald Reagan, riding a tidal wave of Tea Party voters.
There is a much different narrative at work in Texas. Bill White has been slowly but steadily closing the gap. According to realclearpolitics.com, White has moved from nine points behind in January to four behind in April. Polls will swing both ways, but the more Perry moves to the right, and the better-known White becomes, the more White gains.
Pundits overstate the power of the Tea Party right and miss the message of the voters. Voters are worried about jobs and financial security, schools for their kids, sound management of their money and prevention of great blobs of oil poisoning our shores.
With discontent toward politics-as-usual, White is the no-nonsense guy who takes care of business at home. With discontent toward partisanship from both parties, White runs as an independent Democrat who was reelected twice as mayor of Houston with major support from independents and Republicans, winning two reelection landslides with 91 percent and 86 percent of the vote.
When White talks about the jobs he has created, his passion for education, his skill bringing together business leaders and environmentalists, his ability to work with both parties to solve problems and the lessons he has learned and taught in Sunday school, voters listen, whether he is speaking in plain English to network affiliates or fluent Spanish to Hispanic media.
With voters turned off by the showboating of modern politics, White is the anti-hero, the non-politician, the un-partisan, the no-nonsense man who has run a business, met a payroll and managed a crisis. He gets things done without the incompetence or scandal that is a regular feature in the news.
With Texas gaining congressional seats after the census, in large measure because of the surging Hispanic population, White will gain from Hispanic turnout as it becomes clear that Republicans would use gerrymandering to rip off Hispanic voters.
When Katrina struck, Houston came to the aid of the victims. Mayor White carried out a generous mission with flawless execution, for which he was given the Profile in Courage award.
In 2009 the most successful Republicans were not elected using a Rick Perry style of partisan politics and rightist rhetoric. Quite the contrary. In New Jersey and Virginia, Republicans were elected governor campaigning as moderates, problem-solvers and job-creators. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) rarely mentioned Republicans and always spoke of his independence.
I rate Texas a toss-up. The glamour guy of the Tea Party right wins the big cover story, but the no-nonsense man is making a very strong run.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.