AUSTIN — After months of being largely dismissed in a race dominated by the state's two Republican heavyweights, Debra Medina is making her presence felt with an anti-establishment message that has evidently struck a chord among a segment of Republican voters.
Buoyed by her performance against Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in last week's televised debate, the conservative activist has climbed to 12 percent in the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, up from 4 percent in November, a showing that prompted organizers to include her in a second debate Jan. 29.
"Her performance in the debate made her the legitimate and credible 'none-of-the-above,' " said Harvey Kronberg of the Austin-based Quorum Report, an online political newsletter.
While Medina remains a distant third with little realistic hope of pulling off an upset, experts say, her recent burst of momentum has enhanced her credibility and raised the prospect of forcing Perry and Hutchison into a runoff after the March 2 primary. The Rasmussen team called Medina "the only candidate who is gaining ground."
At the same time, analysts say, the broader attention has made Medina a bigger target, increasing scrutiny on some of her more controversial positions. Perry and Hutchison may also be inclined to toughen their attack against her at next weeks debate at WFAA/Channel 8 in Dallas. The debate, sponsored by Belo TV stations and The Dallas Morning News, was initially limited to the two leading candidates. But on Monday, organizers said they expanded it to include Medina based on her improved poll standing. Medina supporters had protested their candidates exclusion.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Medina said the political bounce has generated more than $60,000 in contributions over the past four days, infusing her campaign with a "tremendous amount of new enthusiasm and excitement."
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