Politics & Government

Texas Gov. Rick Perry trounces Democrat to win third term

Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry. AP Photo/LM Otero

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry, tapping into voter anger over high taxes, big government and Barack Obama's presidency, trounced Democratic challenger Bill White on Tuesday to extend his record tenure in the governor's office as Republicans scored sweeping victories across the state and nation.

With 82.8 percent of the state's 8,461 precincts reporting, Perry had 55.8 percent of the vote, compared with 41.4 percent for White. Libertarian Kathie Glass had 2.2 percent. Green Party candidate Deb Shafto and write-in candidate Andy Barron each had less than 1 percent.

"Well, folks, Texans have spoken and we're on the right track," Perry declared as he appeared before euphoric supporters at a Republican victory celebration near Austin.

Perry's victory propelled him into a third four-year term as the state's longest-serving governor and broadened his potential influence in national political affairs. The title of his new book, Fed Up!, served as his campaign mantra and summed up the mood of angry voters who rallied behind Perry's anti-Washington message.

National spotlight

Although Perry has disavowed an interest in a presidential bid, the magnitude of his victory is likely to intensify talk that he could be a presidential contender in 2012. Perry is expected to draw continued national attention as he promotes his book.

White, a former three-term mayor of Houston, sought to depict Perry as an incumbent who has been in office far too long and presides over an administration characterized by cronyism and political favors.

White was billed as Texas Democrats' best hope in years for recapturing the governor's office, but he could not overcome strong Republican headwinds in one of the country's reddest states.

Appearing before cheering supporters three hours after the polls closed, Perry, 60, repeated the "fed up" theme to describe "the wave of dissatisfaction" that swept across the electorate Tuesday. "Citizens have sent a very clear message with their vote," Perry declared.

Perry also focused on the 82nd Legislature, which convenes in January, saying, "We've got our work cut out for us" as political leaders confront a budget shortfall that could reach $25 billion. He repeated his vow to balance the budget without raising taxes.

Fighting for a dream

White conceded defeat shortly after 9 p.m., extending congratulations to Perry and calling on supporters to continue efforts to fight for improved education, border security and other priorities he championed in the campaign. He also called on leaders in both parties to end political divisions that he said stand in the way of progress.

"Isn't that a dream worth fighting for?" he told supporters in Houston.

Republican and Democratic strategists alike used the term tsunami to describe Tuesday's outcome. Republicans continued their hold on statewide offices and savored gains in Congress and the state Legislature.

With his showcase victory in the governor's race, Perry will remain in office for just over 14 years, until January 2015, one of the longest tenures for any U.S. governor. He is poised to become the longest-serving governor after North Dakota Gov. John Henry Hoeven III steps down to take the U.S. Senate seat that he apparently won Tuesday, according to early, unofficial returns.

Hoeven took office in December 2000, six days before Perry.

For Perry, Tuesday's election completed a hard-fought election-year in which he battled two well-funded and aggressive challengers -- White and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, his leading contender in the GOP primary.

Although Perry was considered potentially vulnerable heading into the 2010 election cycle, he successfully read the mood of voters with his us-against-them attacks on Washington, drawing added strength with the rise of the Tea Party movement.

Anti-tax message

Perry's strong opposition to new taxes and his message that Texans are doing much better than strapped residents of other states also apparently struck a chord with voters. Perry has repeatedly told voters that Texas leads the nation in job creation under his leadership.

Perry has served as a state legislator and Texas agriculture commissioner and was lieutenant governor when he ascended to the governor's office after Gov. George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election. He took office in December 2000, won a full term in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006.

White became the favorite of Democratic leaders after abandoning a U.S. Senate campaign and switching to the governor's race, partly at the urging of dropout candidate Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth. He won the Democratic nomination in March with 76 percent of the vote over six other candidates.

Democrats rallied behind White in hope of changing their fortunes after a long political dry spell during which Republicans solidified their hold on the state's top political offices. The last Democratic governor, Ann Richards, was elected in 1990 and was defeated by Bush after one four-year term.

Record spending

Campaign spending in the 2010 governor's race was expected to easily topple previous records, totaling more than $75 million including the primary races.

Perry raised more than $37.7 million in the two-year election cycle, according to Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group. White raised nearly $25.1 million, and Hutchison raised more than $14 million in her bid to unseat Perry.

With Perry and other statewide Republicans surging to victory less than two hours after the polls closed, Democrats braced for a continued stay as the state's underdog party. Party strategists initiated an aggressive plan for a political comeback five years ago and believed they were in sight of that goal after election gains in 2006 and again in 2008, after Obama's historic victory as the first African-American president.

"The tide is going to carry them back out to sea and they've got to start swimming against it to make some progress," said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. "It's a step backward because the national climate is so bad for Democrats."

Related stories from McClatchy DC