When President Obama looked at the schedule of his trip to Texas, he can be forgiven if he might have believed there to be a mistake. The president will be meeting with Texas’ uber-conservative cowboy Governor Rick Perry, who has repeatedly ripped the president to the press. But Obama won’t be meeting with the state’s great Democratic hope: former Houston Mayor Bill White. White made sure that he scheduled campaign stops far, far off the beaten track. White won’t be found in Austin or Dallas, where the president will host two fundraisers and give an address on education. White can instead be found in Abilene, Midland, and Alvarado…. (the last of which I can’t even point to on a map despite myself being from Texas).
What gives? Why would a Democratic gubernatorial candidate running surprisingly close in such an important state run away from the leader of his party? The answer is simply that Bill White can read a poll, and what he sees is that the conservative Democrats and independents that he needs to reel in to knock off Governor Perry really, really don’t like President Obama. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 50% of Texans strongly disapprove of the job that the President is doing. The number moves to 58% disapproval when you add the 8% of Texans that disapprove (just not strongly).
Bruce Buchanan, a Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, explained that “Perry sought an audience with the president to point up the hardships Perry feels federal agencies like EPA and laws like healthcare impose on Texas.” But Obama has his own motives. “It’s political theater for Perry, but also for the president, who shows he is both accessible to his critics and unafraid of any policy argument on the merits” said Buchanan.
As for White? “White dodged Obama because he calculates his best chance to beat Perry in a very conservative state is to emphasize his differences with Obama policies and to avoid photo ops with the president certain to show up in Perry commercials in the fall. But will White’s snub of Obama hurt him with the state’s Democratic base? Buchanan thinks that is unlikely: “As for whether this bothers liberal Democrats in the state, it might. But what are they going to do–stay home on Election Day? I doubt it.” “White’s gambit doesn’t bother Obama, who understands full well what is going on and wishes White well,” added Buchanan.
While Buchanan told FrumForum that he thinks it is a one day story, there are almost certainly photos of Mr. White and the president already together. But while White’s concern about the president having a less than wonderful impact on his already tricky political position is understandable, one has to wonder what on earth is going on. If former Mayor White thought that the president’s presence would hurt him politically, then why on earth didn’t they simply call the White House and explain their reasoning? By ducking the president, White created a national media story which the Perry campaign is using to its advantage. With White noticeably out of sight, the Perry campaign released this ad.
Furthermore, the president isn’t the only one who is making himself seem more reasonable in the way Professor Buchanan described. Governor Perry will surely point to this meeting with the president to alleviate the fears of independent voters made uneasy by Perry’s gung ho conservatism.
Bottom line: this may indeed be a one day story, but it really needn’t have been a story at all. If White was really that worried about what some photos with the leader of his country and his party would do to him, he should have asked President Obama to skip the trip entirely. But given that President Obama did come, Bill White irritated his biggest supporters (who also are probably some of his biggest donors), gave Rick Perry the chance to seem both reasonable and remind everyone that he is in fact the governor (if this were a presidential race, we would say that he looked “presidential”), and White still had to take it on the chin, all day long, regarding his connections to the President.
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