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Despite the racial composition of Tea Party members, who are mostly white, and their unseemly tactics of demonizing Obama as Hitler, the Joker or Mao, Perry became one of the first high-profile officeholders to offer them legitimacy.
On April 15, 2009, at a Tax Day Tea Party outside Austin City Hall, Perry became the public face of the movement when he told reporters that Texas had the legal authority to secede from the United States because it was a country when it entered the union in 1845. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it," he said. "But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come of that?"
Millions of online Drudge Report readers awoke the next morning to see the headline "Rick Perry's star is rising." Interviews with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity followed. And rather than distance themselves from the Tea Party movement and its incendiary rhetoric, others within the Republican establishment have followed Perry's lead.
"All good candidates repeat what the mob says," says Masset, who believes that Perry, by thrusting himself into the national limelight, has an ulterior motive: a potential presidential run in 2012. "I have just no doubt about it," he says. "I'm just cynical enough to believe that a lot of people, despite what they say, they all kind of want to go to higher office."
But to run for president, he must do so from a position of strength, which makes it even more important that he win the governorship again, and win convincingly. Standing in his way, of course, is Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Hutchison has not been a monument to certainty when it comes to making her next political move. As a freshman U.S. senator, she was interviewed about term limits. "I've always said that I would serve no more than two full terms," she told the Austin American-Statesman in 1994. "This may be my last term or I could run for one more, but no more after that. I firmly believe in term limitations, and I plan to adhere to that."
Hutchison changed her mind and her plans in 2006 when she ran for her third consecutive six-year term. But that was after she went back and forth on whether to take on Perry for governor, twice — once before Bush's election as president in 2000 when she was stared down by the advantage of a Perry incumbency, and then again in the run-up to the 2006 primary when in June 2005, according to The Dallas Morning News, she told a group of supporters that she "would love to be governor" and felt she could beat Perry, but had decided against running because she "wanted to do what was right for Texas."
(Hutchison now backs a Senate bill that would limit U.S. senators to two six-year terms.)
Rumors again began to circulate in 2008 that she was interested in running for governor because she had tired of Washington and wanted to return home to raise her two children. She did little to dampen speculation that August when she spoke before the members of the Texas Association of Broadcasters: "The longer I am in Washington, the more I understand why senators and prisoners say they're serving a term."
Hutchison and Perry have been taunting each other ever since: She, by forming an exploratory committee in December 2008, jump-starting it with $1 million from her Senate campaign, and saying: "There's too much bitterness, too much anger, too little trust, too little consensus and too much infighting. And the tone comes from the top." He, by telling the Associated Press in mid-January that he had doubts she would actually run against him for governor. "There's plenty of time for the senator to think that it's not in her best interest, Texas's best interest or the country's best interest to leave the United States Senate."
With Hutchison seemingly putting the "will she, won't she" speculation to rest, Texas leaders up and down the political spectrum began to jockey for position to take her place and the place of those who were jockeying. State Senator Florence Shapiro, Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams and former Secretary of State Roger Williams began campaigning for her seat on the Republican side, while Houston Mayor Bill White and John Sharp announced their same intentions as Democrats. Additionally, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, both Republicans, have also said they would consider running for an open seat in a special election — a rare political opportunity because of its short campaign cycle and absence of primary contests. A head-to-head special election between all candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, could mirror the same free-for-all that landed Hutchison in the Senate when Lloyd Bentsen resigned his seat in 1993 to become Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration.
Hutchison and Bill Krueger, who had been appointed as Bentsen's replacement by then-Governor Ann Richards, emerged from a pack of 24 candidates to face each other in a runoff.
Her victory was historic: She became the state's first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She seemed groomed for higher office, serving as a state rep from Houston from 1972 to 1976, where she met her second husband, Ray Hutchison, a savvy Dallas state rep who's currently a public finance lawyer at Vinson & Elkins. Kay spent the two years following her state legislative stint as vice-chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, while Ray lost the state's first notable GOP primary battle in 1978 to Bill Clements, who became the first Republican governor in Texas since Reconstruction.