BUDA — Former Houston Mayor Bill White was supposed to offer the Democrats their best chance to beat the GOP in 15 years. Partial voting returns from across the state show he lost to Perry by 13 percent in a midterm election that turned into a Republican landslide.
“The citizens of our state have sent a very clear message with their votes — they’re optimistic about the future of our country and they believe that Texas is headed in the right direction,” said Perry, in a speech marking his re-election to a historic third term as governor. “Things are better here than they are almost anywhere else in the country.”
With a budget shortfall that has been reported to be as high as $25 billion, which is proportionally larger than the budget deficit California faced, Perry promised to veto any tax increase aimed at helping to close the gap.
He said those who thought the budget crisis was so bad that tax increases needed to be considered were “doom and gloomers.”
Perry plugged his new book titled “Fed Up!,” saying that Texans were “fed up” with Washington, but never acknowledged his Democratic opponent in his victory speech.
In the end, the White campaign couldn’t keep up with increased turnout for Republican candidates across the state, especially in suburban and rural counties.
“We challenge Texas to support Gov. Perry and others moving our state forward,” White said in his concession speech.
White urged his supporters to remain active in politics, likening them to “a pendulum that swings politics.”
Cheers erupted throughout the room when White conceded the election to Perry, but the cheering stopped when White said that every public official, including federal officials, deserves respect. The only cheering that could be heard at Perry’s party for that line was from the speakers broadcasting the audio from White’s party.
When the event organizers at the Republican election party turned off the live feed from the White campaign, the crowd that had gathered to watch White’s concession speech started chanting “Nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
The last few days of the gubernatorial campaign had centered on a controversial advertisement released by the Perry campaign that revived previously disproved claims that Houston is a sanctuary city, arguing that immigration policies led to the death of a Houston police officer.
In the ad, the officer’s widow Joslyn Johnson said, “In the past, Bill White supported sanctuary city policies that made it difficult for officers to safely do their jobs.”
The assertion that Houston was a sanctuary city or that White supported such policies isn’t true, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas, who rated the claim as false in February.
However, the ad was effective in setting off a media firestorm and the White campaign quickly countered with its own ad attacking Perry on border security issues.
“It’s effective if the press is obsessed by it,” said radio-television-film professor Paul Stelker. “Negative advertising works because it gets your attention.”
Still, Stekler said he didn’t think the ad would be the dominant focus on the election and warned that most of advertisements like this are only effective on the margins.
The race between Perry and White appeared to be closing during the summer months — White had managed to cut Perry’s lead to an average of about 6 percent, with a Public Policy Polling poll even showing the race tied.
However, the lead began to expand in the fall, even as The Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press published stories highlighting connections between companies that received investments and grants from state organizations and key Perry donors.
The attacks didn’t stick because Perry’s actions haven’t been all that different from the actions of past administrations, and people see it as part of the political game, said Andrew Wheat, research director at Citizens for Public Justice.
“People think this is business as usual and they might be right,” Wheat said. “People have a dim view of politicians, and it’s usually richly deserved.”
Instead, voters focused their attention and anger on Washington, D.C., said long-time state Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Trinity County, a conservative Democrat from East Texas who lost by more than 15 percent.
“Washington is beating us. It’s a tide,” McReynolds said.