Gov. race: GOP tone and the Hispanic vote

Perhaps picking up on Paul Burka’s boxing metaphor that became the February issue of Texas Monthly, the National Journal posted a story today by John Mercurio that breaks down the Texas governor’s race. Filled with the requisite “in this corner, in that corner” narration, Mercurio attempts to classify the two candidates (Perry first, then Hutchison):

In one corner stands Perry, the two-term incumbent who has sought to rally conservatives and anti-Washington, populist types with a solid diet of red-meat bravado. One day, he’s headlining a tax day “Tea Party” and threatening to secede. Next, his campaign adviser is warning that if the GOP broadens its tent too much it risks becoming a “whorehouse.” He’s already been endorsed by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), among others.

In the other corner stands Hutchison, who recently has become less restrained in criticizing the man she’s abandoning a Senate seat to challenge. For her, the race is as much about the future of the GOP as it is about the future of Texas. “Republican voters have to decide whether they want to have a [gubernatorial] nominee who is going to rejuvenate our party and provide the leadership for Texas, or a nominee who will continue on this harsh rhetoric course of narrowing our base and acting like if you don’t agree on every issue, you aren’t conservative and should not be Republican,” Hutchison said last week in an interview. “That’s not me. I reject that.”

While all of this is just lovely, it’s not terribly new.  What is new and, if I may blogitorialize for a moment, fascinating, is the next paragraph:

She said the key distinction between herself and Perry is not ideology, it’s the way she chooses to communicate her brand of conservatism. “I’m not a moderate. I’m a conservative,” she said. “But I’m called a moderate, not because of my voting record but because I speak in a tone that is not harsh and doesn’t say ‘I don’t want you to be Republican if you don’t agree with me on every issue.’ I understand that there are people who disagree but want to be Republicans and want the basic principles that we provide.”

If I’m reading this right, we may have, with Hutchison, a party leader who’s looking to repair the party’s image in Texas and nationally by striking an appealing tone while sticking to core conservative philosophy.  Ronald Reagan, anyone?  It will be interesting to see if this strategy works with Texas voters.

Later in the story, former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) warns the party against overly-harsh criticism of Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  Hispanics, he argues, are not a rigidly-set voting bloc, and could be brought to the Republican side, if courted properly.

“Republicans should understand that the Hispanic factor is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. If we as a party don’t understand how to communicate effectively with Hispanic constituents, nothing else we do will matter. The demographic is staring us in the face.”

And there’s no doubt this issue is bigger in Texas than in any other state right now.  So while the eyes of Texas may be upon you, the eyes of the nation are upon us.

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