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Big-Name Showdown in Texas Has Already Started

By Chris Cillizza
Monday, September 21, 2009

"Come and Take It" reads the white-on-black lettering across the top of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's boots, a slogan ostensibly about the 1835 Texas War of Independence but one that could easily apply to his 2010 Republican primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perry, during a sit-down with a dozen or so Washington-based reporters late last week, said that although Hutchison has already announced her candidacy, he is still skeptical that she will run. "There are still opportunities for her to stay here in Washington and do the job she was elected to do," said Perry, adding that Texas voters regularly ask him why Hutchison is running.

Perry said a run by Hutchison would be detrimental to the party's prospects, as the two would probably spend upwards of $50 million -- money better spent electing candidates to the state House in advance of the 2011 redistricting. "It is beyond me how anybody thinks [a primary] is good for the Republican Party," he said.

For all his bluster, Perry appears to be, at the root, engaging in a bit of wishful thinking as it relates to Hutchison. The senator has already embarked on a statewide tour and has hired a fleet of campaign operatives.

Polling suggests a close race, although Perry insists he puts no stock in surveys. "You can go out and find polls that show almost anything you want," he said.

Perry appears set to run on his strong conservative principles -- particularly his pet subject of state's rights -- and the strides the Texas economy has made since he took office nine years ago. He touted the decision by Caterpillar, the heavy-equipment manufacturer, to move one of its assembly plants to the Lone Star State as evidence that "businesses continue to move to Texas."

On the same day Perry made that statement, however, Hutchison's campaign sent out a release hitting the governor for the 62,000 jobs the state lost in August. "It's time for a governor who is focused on getting results by helping create jobs in Texas instead of playing politics like Rick Perry," said Joe Pounder, a Hutchison spokesman.

Perry, who was in town to address the Value Voters Summit and to raise campaign cash, said he is focused on winning reelection and that he has no interest in a presidential run in 2012. (He went so far as to ask that his name be removed from the 2012 straw vote being conducted at the summit.)

Perry's political goal? "I hope to be able to be an influential governor in creating a 10th Amendment movement that makes Washington less impactful on the states," he said.

Senate Races, 2010

With just over a year left before the 2010 midterm elections, the Senate playing field is coming into sharper focus.

In recent weeks, Democrats have landed their top recruit in Louisiana -- Rep. Charlie Melancon -- and credible Republican challengers have emerged in Arkansas and Colorado.

By our count, only four states that one (or both) parties view as competitive have open recruiting processes: Delaware, Nevada, North Carolina and North Dakota.

In Delaware and North Dakota -- both Democratic-held seats -- Republican recruiting hopes rest on one candidate. In Delaware, that candidate is Rep. Mike Castle, and in North Dakota it is Gov. John Hoeven. Castle looks to be close to a 50-50 shot to run, but Hoeven's candidacy seems more unlikely. In each state, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has no backup plan.

Despite the atrocious reelection numbers of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), national Republicans have not lured the big-name candidates -- most notably Rep. Dean Heller -- into the race. A number of lesser lights are in the field, but most national Republicans seem to be waiting on the state party chairman, Sue Lowden, to make up her mind about running.

North Carolina is the only major recruiting hole for Senate Democrats, as they remain convinced that Sen. Richard Burr (R) is vulnerable. That conviction isn't apparently shared by the many high-profile Democrats who have taken a pass on the race. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, among others, is running on the Democratic side but the jury is still out on Rep. Bobby Etheridge, who would almost certainly be the party's strongest nominee.

How each side does in filling out its recruitment dance card will play a critical role in determining the size and shape of the 2010 playing field, and which side is better positioned to take advantage of the prevailing national winds.

Here's a look at the five races most likely to switch parties:

5. Nevada (Democratic-controlled): Reid is in more trouble in his reelection race than we believed. Independent polling shows him trailing Danny Tarkanian -- the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry "Tark the Shark" Tarkanian -- and Lowden, although neither is well known statewide. Reid is caught in a tough spot -- between pushing the progressive agenda put forward by President Obama in Washington and campaigning as a moderate to conservative Democrats in Nevada. Reid's biggest assets? His campaign war chest ($7.3 million on hand at the end of June) and his demonstrated ability to win political brawls (see his race against John Ensign in 1998 as evidence).

4. Ohio (R): The outcome of this contest, perhaps more than any other in 2010, will be strongly affected by which way the national political winds are blowing. Ohio's economy is struggling, and it doesn't seem likely to turn around before next November. Do voters blame former president George W. Bush, or do they turn their ire toward Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Obama?

3. Missouri (R): Picking a winner between Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R) is tough. Each is running a competent, well-funded campaign in a state where voters have shown a willingness to elect statewide candidates from either party. This contest may come down to the candidate better able to localize a campaign. Democrats will try to cast Blunt as a tool of Bush; Republicans will try to hang some of Obama's more liberal policy proposals around Carnahan.

2. Connecticut (D): Sen. Christopher Dodd is in better shape politically than he was in the spring. But he is still the most vulnerable incumbent of either party as a result of the negative publicity he received for his controversial loan from Countrywide Financial and his failed presidential bid in 2008. Former congressman Rob Simmons remains the favorite to challenge Dodd, but a crowded Republican race with two self-funders in the mix means Simmons must devote his attention to the primary -- taking precious time away from making the case against Dodd.

1. New Hampshire (R): The GOP field is growing more crowded, with Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney and businessman Ovide Lamontagne expected to join former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte in the primary. National Democrats have done a good job of casting Ayotte as not ready for prime time; regular voters usually don't pay much attention to those sorts of things this far from an election, but perception created in off years can turn into reality in an election year.

2 DAYS: President Obama addresses the fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City, the latest sign of a detente between him and former president Bill Clinton.

4 DAYS: The Mackinac (Mich.) Republican Leadership Conference opens with two of the leading lights for 2012 -- former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- set to address the gathering.

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