By Chris Cillizza
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; A03
Texas Gov. Rick Perry cruised to victory in the state's Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday night, crushing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and setting the stage for a run for a third full term this fall.
Hutchison conceded the race with only about a third of precincts reporting and Perry holding a steady lead of more than 20 percentage points, just above the 50 percent of votes he needed to avoid a runoff. Debra Medina, an underfunded candidate backed by some within the "tea party" movement, was a distant third.
Perry will face former Houston mayor Bill White (D) in November's general election. White crushed hair-care magnate Farouk Shami by 60 points to secure his party's nomination for governor.
Both parties wasted little time in starting that November race. Before the polls had even closed, the Democratic Governors Association released a memo, titled "Why Democrats can win Texas," that touted White as an "outsider who can bring people together" while portraying Perry as having "sprinted to the far right" in the GOP primary.
The Republican Governors Association quickly responded. "Once Texans get a clear picture of Bill White's liberal record, I think they will collectively say, 'Houston, we have a problem,' " Executive Director Nick Ayers said.
Perry's victory completes a remarkable political comeback. After he was reelected in 2006 with 39 percent of the vote in a four-way field, he was widely regarded as a political lame duck. When Hutchison, who had decided not to challenge Perry in 2006, made clear she would run in 2010, many GOP observers thought the governor's time had come.
But Perry, as he has done repeatedly in his political career, overcame those low expectations in the primary campaign -- taking the fight to Hutchison from the start and portraying her as part of the problem in Washington. He was an early adopter of the tea party movement, grasping that the passion contained within the group could be harnessed for political gain.
"There is a real movement afoot in our country," Perry said last May. "There is a legitimate tempest that is brewing across this country."
Hutchison did herself no favors, struggling to adapt to a political environment that had turned sharply against Washington. It remains to be seen whether she will make good on her oft-repeated pledge that she would resign her Senate seat this year, regardless of the outcome in the governor's race.
If she does resign, Perry would have the ability to appoint a temporary successor. A special election to fill the remaining two years of her term probably would be held in November.
In other down-ballot action, Rep. Ron Paul (R) crushed several opponents affiliated with the tea party movement in his South Texas 14th District. Wealthy businessman Bill Flores led 2008 nominee Rob Curnock in the Republican primary in Central Texas' 17th District, with the winner to face Rep. Chet Edwards (D).