In the span of one hour Thursday night, Gov. Rick Perry has his best chance yet of the 2010 campaign to show why he should stay in the state’s top job — a position he has already held longer than anyone in Texas history.
His Republican challengers — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and relative political newcomer Debra Medina — get their best opportunity yet to make their case that change is needed in the governor’s office.
Gaining momentum on a tight campaign schedule is just the beginning of what’s at stake in the first gubernatorial political debate of 2010.
It comes at a time when many Texans may be more in tune with football playoffs than state politics, but it’s already just more than a month before early voting begins Feb. 16.
"This gives folks everywhere who are not terribly tuned in to what’s going on with this race yet an opportunity to watch candidates think on their feet . . . and deal with criticism dealt by their opponent," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin. "I think they’ll take a few well-chosen swings at each other."
Will Perry land a knockout punch against Hutchison, his chief rival who is lagging behind in some polls? Will Hutchison gain the momentum she’s been unable to muster so far? Can Medina attract new supporters and prove she’s a real contender for the GOP gubernatorial nomination?
This debate comes after months of Perry labeling Hutchison a Washington insider, Hutchison saying Perry has dominated state government for too long and Medina trying to offer voters a non-career-politician candidate.
"This has all the makings of a good slugfest," said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Quorum Report, an online political newsletter.
But if no one makes a knockout or significant error, the debate could be a wash.
"It’s critical to not make mistakes," said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who works with both Republicans and Democrats. "Mistakes in debates can be mortal wounds."
I think the pressure will be high for all three... Kay has to gain a lot of ground... Medina has to prove she is not some crazy lady... and Rick really just needs to show that he is a steady and firm leader... and look gubernatorial... the article is pretty good although it does make the mistake of declaring that Rick's support is just from the social conservative wing of the party... if anything his message avoids that... Rick and his peeps have been very quiet on social issues in this campaign strangely enough... all they talk about is fiscal policy...