By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 11:07 PM
In a surprise move, the Democratic Governors Association has decided to up the ante in Texas, with plans to launch an attack ad against Gov. Rick Perry (R ) that assails him as a career politician who has lost touch with the people of the Lone Star State.
The audacious action comes in a state that has been a Republican stronghold for more than a decade. But Democrats have concluded that, even in a year that tilts strongly toward Republicans, Perry is more vulnerable than he has appeared in his race against Democrat Bill White, the former mayor of Houston.
The DGA has already contributed $2 million to White's campaign. The new ad buy, which is scheduled to begin running in the Dallas area Tuesday, represents an independent expenditure on behalf of White. A Democratic strategist said the DGA would spend about $650,000 to $700,000 a week on its ad campaign.
The latest poll in Texas, conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates for a consortium of Texas newspapers, gave Perry a seven-percentage-point lead, 46 percent to 39 percent. The poll was published on Sunday. Perry's lead was consistent with other surveys taken in September.
The public poll showed White and Perry running about even in the Houston area, where White is well known. But Perry held a solid lead in the Dallas area. The DGA hopes its ad campaign will cut into that margin there, which could be the key to White's hopes of winning.
Perry became governor in December 2000 after then-governor George W. Bush resigned to become president. He has been reelected twice to four-year terms and is now the longest-serving governor in the state's history.
In a year in which incumbents of both parties have found themselves on the defensive, Democrats hope to turn Perry's long tenure against him. The ad concludes by saying, "Twenty-five years as a politician has changed Rick Perry alright - for the worse."
A copy of the ad was made available to the Post before it went on the air.
The ad attacks Perry on several fronts. Among them are ordering 11- and 12-year-old girls to be vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer and proposing a mammoth Trans-Texas highway corridor that would have taken land from many private property owners.
Both proposals eventually were blocked, but Republicans and Democrats have continued to criticize Perry for his actions. Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R ) included both in her primary challenge to Perry last spring but fell far short in her bid to unseat him.
Democrats face substantial losses in governors' races this fall, with Republicans looking to finish the elections with at least 30 of the 50 governor's mansions. But Democrats are running competitively in three of the nation's most populous states, all of which elected Republicans governors four years ago.
In California, Democratic attorney general and former governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. holds a narrow lead over Republican Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay. In Florida, Democrat Alex Sink, the state comptroller, is running even with businessman Rick Scott, who was the upset winner or the GOP primary in August.
An upset in Texas could provide an improbable sweep of the big Sunbelt states, although defeating Perry is seen as the most difficult of the three. Democratic officials believe it is worth an additional investment in White's candidacy to see how vulnerable the incumbent may be.