AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry holds a commanding lead over his two Republican opponents in a new Houston Chronicle poll, but he still hasn’t closed the deal with Republican voters to avoid a runoff with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
However, the race could turn into a Perry victory before the March 2 primary, said pollster Mickey Blum, because of what she called last week’s “implosion” of activist candidate Debra Medina.
The poll found Perry leading with 45 percent support among likely Republican voters, with Hutchison at 29 percent and Medina at 17 percent; 8 percent said they were undecided. The Feb. 2-10 telephone interview survey of 464 likely Republican voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
The survey was conducted for the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Blum & Weprin Associates Inc.
Blum said normally poll numbers for an incumbent such as Perry will be mirrored in election returns. She said this is an unusual election, though.
“He looks good at this point: A 16-point lead and now the third candidate imploding,” Blum said. “He doesn’t need very much to get to 50 percent. He just needs (Medina’s) people to either stay home or vote for him.”
If a runoff is needed, it will be April 13.
Representatives for the front-runners said the only poll that matters is Election Day. Hutchison spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said Perry should be concerned that a majority of the primary voters want someone else, but Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor expects to win.
Medina said she is not expecting to lose any ground because of the controversy.
“We’ve seen more traffic on the Web site, traffic comparable to that after the first debate, and more money and more fans on the Facebook page,” Medina said.
The survey came out of the field the day before Medina in a radio interview refused to deny government involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, only later to say it was done solely by Muslim terrorists.
Perry vs. White
Looking ahead to the general election, Democrat Bill White had potentially good news in the survey.
White trailed Perry in a general election match-up 43 percent to 37 percent and Hutchison by 42 percent to 34 percent.
Blum said that gives White a solid base despite the fact about two-thirds of 1,508 registered voters surveyed did not know enough about him to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. She said he, essentially, is polling as a generic Democrat.
White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said the poll numbers showed trouble for Perry because he is under 50 percent in a race against White.
“Bill White, who has never run statewide, is barely behind an incumbent who has been one office or another for 25 years and has spent millions on this race,” Bacon said. “When people learn something about Bill White, they like him, and that’s why Bill is working hard to introduce himself to Texans across the state.”
The poll did not measure White’s strength against Democratic primary opponent businessman Farouk Shami of Houston.
Blum said the survey found a definite anti-incumbent, anti-Washington mood. She said 44 percent of Medina’s voters said they wanted to cast a ballot to send a message to Washington.
“(Perry’s) a homegrown talent who’s been in the state,” said poll respondent Wes Fpinbic, 64, owner of a Houston engineering firm. “Kay Bailey has been in Washington a long time, and I really don’t trust the hell out of people who’ve been in Washington.”
Reaction to Hutchison
Hutchison trails Perry almost everywhere in Texas and is even behind in her hometown of Dallas. Perry has winning majorities in Houston and San Antonio. Hutchison leads only in the Panhandle and in Austin, where Perry has overseen state government for the past nine years.
Diane Puccetti recently moved to Harborside in Montgomery County from California. She said she is backing Hutchison because she believes she is a “true conservative.”
But Shelly Martin, 46, of Kingwood, said she is for Perry because all Hutchison has offered is time for a change.
“I’ve heard change before, and I didn’t like it,” Martin said, adding she believes Perry has kept Texas taxes low.
Huchison tried to make term limits for governor an issue, and 75 percent of the registered voters surveyed agree on that issue.
Retired Houston utility executive Derwood Cone, 66, a survey respondent, said he favors term limits and likely will vote for Hutchison.
“I’ll have to admit I’m just tired of our current governor. I’m ready for some new blood in the governorship,” Cone said.
Hutchison may be hurt by her support for the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Forty-eight percent of the likely Republican voters said they could not vote for a candidate who supports Roe v. Wade, but a third of Hutchison’s voters fall into this category.
Hutchison’s distant second-place standing in the race did not appear to reflect how Texas voters feel about her — 48 percent approved of the job she has done as senator, while 27 percent disapproved.
Economy a top issue
Perry’s favorable rating was 46 percent positive and 38 percent negative. That is almost identical to where he was in 2006 prior to his re-election, with 39 percent of the vote in a five-person race.
Texas’ stronger than average economy likely is helping Perry. Among the primary voters, 38 percent listed jobs and the economy as the top issue, and 53 percent said Texas is on the right track.
When the larger group of registered voters was asked what Texas should do to create more jobs, 40 percent said provide more incentives for businesses to move to Texas. Perry’s deal-closing, $500 million Texas Enterprise Fund has been one of his prized programs.