As of now, just after 10 PM, Perry is winning big enough to avoid a run-off, and Hutchison conceded. That was the exact opposite of what most pundits predicted when Hutchison got into the race 18 months ago. After all, Perry was considered by many (including many conservatives) to be, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole. He built up a reputation for cronyism with the attempted Trans-Texas Corridor land grab and the vaccine fiasco, both of which involved former aides. His love of toll roads (even converting existing, paid-for roads into toll roads) rubbed many Texans the wrong way. His veto of the post-Kelo eminent domain reform HB 2006 pissed off still more people, many of whom view the later 2009 Constitutional Amendments addressing the issue (Proposition 2, Proposition 3) as weak substitutes.
But in the end, none of that mattered. As many commentators noted, Hutchison’s best day was the day she announced, and it’s been downhill ever since. Why? Many reasons, but here are a few of the main ones:
- Perry ran a much better campaign, running hard and never letting up. Hutchison expected people to vote for her because she was popular (routinely racking up 65% of the vote in general elections) and wasn’t Rick Perry. Perry asked for people to vote for him because he was conservative.
- For all his numerous missteps, Perry has actually gotten the big picture right: keeping the budget balanced, refusing to even consider a state income tax, and generally not screwing up the Texas economy. Even in today’s serious recession, Texas running rings around high-tax states like California. Perry deserves real credit for that.
- In a year when outrage against big-spending in Washington is at a rolling boil, Perry was able to successfully paint Hutchison as a Washington insider, a task made easier by Hutchison’s unapologetic defense of earmarking. He was able to do this because, while Hutchison’s voting record is conservative by the standards of the U.S. Senate, it’s not particularly conservative by the standards of Texas. There’s always been a suspicion by many rank and file Texas Republicans that Hutchison is a little bit of a “squishy” conservative, much like George W. Bush, who was dinged by conservatives numerous times for his free-spending ways.
- Perry constantly courted Tea Party activists despite the presence of Tea Party favorite Debra Medina in the race. As an energetic and widespread movement, the Tea Party voters he was able to win away from Medina probably put him over the top.
There are many other reasons, but running the best campaign, and as more conservative than Hutchison in a very conservative year, was enough to clinch the deal for Perry.