Can Debra Medina top Kay Bailey Hutchison?

The showdown between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was supposed to be one of the cycle’s defining primaries. Yet, not only has the race been tame by the standards of what is to be expected when two towering politicians who personally dislike each other go head-to-head, but Hutchison now finds herself in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by Debra Medina, a conservative close to the Tea Party movement.

PPP’s new survey of the race shows Perry at 39%, Hutchison at 28% and Medina at 24%; among self-described conservative voters, who represent more than 70% of the cycle, Hutchison comes in third. While no other pollster has found a similar result, Rasmussen’s latest survey (released 10 days ago) did find Medina enjoying with the most momentum: the 14% she received in that poll was her highest result to date.

(A reminder: The primary will take place on March 2nd, which is in just 3 weeks. The two top vote-getters will move on to an April 13th runoff.)

Who is this woman who is now going toe-to-toe with a sitting Senator? Medina served as the Republican Party’s county chairman Wharton County, a small county in Southeastern Texas. A major participant in the Tea Party protests, she is also a libertarian activist who helped organize Texas’s Campaign for Liberty, an organization of Ron Paul supporters launched back in 2008.  We all know Paul supporters tend to be very engaged, which allowed the congressman to get surprisingly strong results in a number of presidential contests two years ago; Rand Paul’s success in Kentucky’s GOP primary also testifies to Paulites’ success at promoting their members of their camp - and they seem to have done the same to Medina over the past few weeks.

In 2008, ultra-conservative (and secessionist) Larry Kilgore challenged John Cornyn’s hold on the GOP’s Senate nomination; he received 19%. Medina is running a higher profile campaign, which suggests she could build on that base of support for an anti-establishment contender and thus grow enough to make it to the runoff.

But here is the twist: Logic would dictate that Medina would grow at Perry’s expense. The governor has been trying to channel conservative voters’ anger towards the anti-federal government, most notably last year when he suggested Texas might secede. While Hutchison has been touting her own conservatism, she represents a comparatively mainstream Republicanism that makes for an uneasy fit with Medina and Perry’s rhetoric.

What does it say about the GOP electorate’s ideological profile that Hutchison (who can hardly be called a centrist) has been so marginalized that the primary has room for two more conservative options? What to make of the fact the hard right’s split is threatening to relegate Hutchison to third place rather than giving her an opening? Does this reflect voters’ disdain about Hutchison’s relative moderation or does it speak to conservative anger towards all federal officials, however conservative their voting record might be?

I should nuance that point: Perry is himself an incumbent who has attracted plenty of criticism from all sides, and his best effort to portray himself as an outspoken conservative don’t make him any less of an establishment figure. In fact, he is the longest serving governor in the country, which leads to the obvious question as to whether we should have expected him to easily win over Tea Partiers’ support in the first place. In the context of a two-way race with Hutchison, conservative activists are obviously likely to side with the governor, but perhaps we should not be surprised that the same people who are blasting Hutchison’s support for the 2008 bailout plan are also looking for an opportunity to bail on a fellow insider who has led the state for a decade.

Who Republicans nominate will obviously impact how much of a chance Houston Mayor Bill White has of scoring an upset in the general election. Polls show Hutchison scoring larger margins against White, while Perry is under 50%. The latest Rasmussen poll had Medina with a slight lead over the Houston Mayor. Given her low name recognition, that speaks to how uphill a climb White will face against any Republican, but it does look like his prospects depend on Hutchison losing the primary.

The sudden focus on Medina comes as two other GOP primaries are getting tougher along similar insider/outsider lines.

In Indiana, former Senator Dan Coats got a taste of the difficulties he might face in the Republican primary, as John Hostettler and Marlin Stutzman welcomed him to the race by blasting his connections to Washington. “If there’s one group people are more disenfranchised from than Washington politicians, it’s lobbyists,” Stutzman said. “Sen. Coats has probably been back to Indiana fewer times than Sen. Bayh has and has those questionable relationships. If you’re trying to contrast with Sen. Bayh, why would you go with Sen. Coats?” While Coats will be favored to win the GOP primary, such attacks could undermine his credibility along the very same lines Democrats plan to use in the general election, thus introducing a narrative Evan Bayh would later have an easier time working with.

In NY-23, Doug Hoffman might strike again: The man who drove Dede Scozzafava out of November’s special election declared he could mount a third-party bid once again if he loses the Republican nomination Assemblyman William Barclay. Indeed, Hoffman is simultaneously running to represent the Republican Party and Conservative Party lines on the November ballot; with Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long sounding certain Hoffman will represent them, the businessman is leaving the door open to taking advantage of that if he does not get the GOP’s.

That would be different from last year’s events in one major way: A major rationale of Hoffman’s candidacy was that Scozzafava had not been selected by the district’s Republican voters but rather by a committee of party leaders - an argument he will not be able to make if he loses to Barclay. From Democrats’ perspective, however, there is no difference: A Owens-Barclay-Hoffman general election would be a repeat of the scenario that played out last fall, a major boost to Rep. Bill Owens’s hopes of securing a full term.

9 Responses to “Can Debra Medina top Kay Bailey Hutchison?”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    Well the diversity of the GOP in Texas is on full display. I thought some people mentioned that the GOP didn`t do litmus tests.

    Taniel, you have written a good article but you seem to lose a train of thought when you say, correctly in my view, that you would expect Medina to be taking votes from Perry. It seems she isn`t.

    The GOP has a problem when Hutchinson is described as a centrist. One another post some Conservatives on here said Obama is no centrist and America is center right. Would those saem individuals say Hutchinson is centrist? If not then that means the other candidates are far off to the right and if you criticise one candidate for supposedly being far from the center at least have the consistency to criticise others.

  2. 2 Nathan

    I’m a Medina booster, and think she has a genuine chance to make it to the runoff here in Texas. The reason for her success is her independent-minded outsider status, in my opinion, more than ideology.

    Hutchison carries the baggage of the federal government as well as her inability to address the abortion issue quite squarely. Perry is an insider’s insider, and, rhetoric aside, has a doubtful record as a fiscal conservative. Quite a few people want to elect someone who’s not a marred fixture of Texas politics.

    Unfortunately, I have doubts about the Medina camp’s organization. I signed up for email updates last week, and haven’t gotten one yet. The website, meanwhile, lacks any way for people to sign up as volunteers. Thus, you have people like me, enthusiastic supporters willing to donate time and energy, who are unable to do so. This does not bode well for the GOTV effort on March 2nd. I hope this changes soon, because I believe she’d be far and away the best governor from among the three Republicans. (Don’t know much yet about Bill White or any of his primary opponents yet.)

  3. 3 IndieIndy

    Please help out Marlin Stutzman as he fights the DC Establishment.


    Anything helps. A donation of $5 or more, forwarding this information to a friend, or signing up yourself to help somehow.

    Marlin has been a conservative leader in the state legislature for a few years, has proven himself a principled leader, and has carried on this (what was a supposedly an impossible fight a few months ago) fight against Evan Bayh since Summer of 2009. He’s tread the path as a leader - people like DC Dan Coats have merely followed opportunistically.

    Http:// !!!

  4. 4 TJ


    I didn’t call American a center-right country, though I agree with the assessment. Polls show that a large plurality of Americans identify themselves as conservatives compared to moderates and liberals.
    As to your comments about the Texas race: I view Hutchison as center-right, not center. But that’s the opinion for someone from Illinois, not Texas. Texas is not a centrist or center-right state, it’s solid right, and when Texas voters compare Hutchison’s positions to their own views, they probably view her as more centrist and a bit less conservative. I’m sure voters in Vermont would view Hutchison as very conservative when compared to their own political beliefs. I don’t think KBH’s lacking performance in the gov race has much to do with some alleged national litmus test among Republicans.

  5. 5 Nathan

    Anon, I don’t follow your criticism. Is a litmus test implied every time a moderate faces a tough primary? Of course not. This is nothing special compared to the Democratic primaries faced by Lieberman and Specter, to cite two.

    Hutchison is a center-right politician, while Perry is a conservative and Medina a libertarian. So yeah, it is possible to frame her struggles as evidence that moderate Republicans cannot win. On the other hand, she’s not actually doing too badly for someone challenging a fairly popular sitting governor in a primary, while also fending off an insurgent candidate in an insurgent sorta year.

    More importantly, plenty of voters look at more than a person’s location on the left-right ideological axis when selecting a candidate. They are also interested in trustworthiness, independence, experience, creativity, leadership, and more. Now, I take this to a crazy extreme, where I would vote for both Russ Feingold and Debra Media. Not many go that far. But they are definitely looking for more than ideological purity in a primary election.

  6. 6 Sury

    Medina is left-of-center. She is a RINO. I am amazed that she is garnering any support at all with some of her positions.

  7. 7 anon

    I’m a Medina supporter.

    I think your “right vs right vs moderate” analysis misses what is important here. Rick Perry has at least enough respect to occasionally throw the libertarian/Ron Paul wing a bone, or pretend to actually care about some of our stuff. I don’t really trust that he is anything more than a two faced politician, but hey, at least he tries sometimes.

    On the other hand, KBH voted for TARP. I took that as a big middle finger salute right in my face. I promised myself I’d never vote for her again for anything at any level after that.

  8. 8 deleted

    anon - really. So Perry is a two faced politican but hey you will vote for him (even though he didn`t have a vote about TARP and may have voted for it).

  9. 9 Anonymous

    TJ, Texas may be rightwing but for how long. Demographic change marches across the landscape. Enjoy.

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