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Will Scars of the Texas Republican Governor’s Race Hurt Candidates in Future Elections?

It has been close to four months since Gov. Rick Perry soundly defeated Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for renomination in the Texas Republican gubernatorial primary. When the two appeared together June 11 — the first time since the primary — The Dallas Morning News noted that “You could almost hear the ice breaking. Almost.” If they are not able to convince that the ice has truly melted, voters may give both politicians freezer burn.

Public Policy Polling released a poll today that finds that while Hutchison has a positive approval-disapproval rating among party voters, just 47 percent approve of her. By comparison, 66 percent of Republicans approve of fellow Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

On Tuesday, PPP did a poll of the Texas governor’s race and found Republicans remain cool to Perry as well, though he is now their official nominee. Perry now had a 58 percent approval rating among Republicans in the poll — about 7 points above the 51 percent he got in the March 2 primary. Hutchison received 30 percent of the vote, while Tea Party candidate Debra Medina had 19 percent.

These mediocre approval ratings are translating into possible electoral trouble down the road for both Hutchison and Perry.

If Hutchison decides to run for another Senate term in 2012 — something she refuses to comment on, according to Roll Call — she may face trouble even getting her party’s nomination. PPP found Republicans were evenly divided on whether Hutchison should even run again, with 43 percent in favor and 43 percent against. If she does run, 41 percent of Republicans said they would vote for another candidate. Hutchison won re-election in 2006 with 62 percent of the vote against Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky.

Hutchison’s troubles in 2012 may stem from her actions after the primary fight, according to Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. What may most hurt is her decision to not follow through on her repeated promises to resign from her Senate seat whether or not she won the gubernatorial primary.

When Hutchison announced for governor, a number of high-profile Republicans — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and former state Secretary of State Roger Williams among them — declared their intentions to seek the seat. Some of them indicated they would remain in the primary if Hutchison decided to run for another term. Jillson said that when she then decided to remain in office, she blocked Republicans in lower offices from moving up the ladder. “A whole queue of aggrevated Republicans” may now decide against supporting her as a result.

Even if Hutchison is able to make it through a tough Republican Senate primary, she may still have trouble in the general.

“She could be bruised enough that a Democrat might have a shot at it,” Jillson said.

Perry may face a more immediate backlash as he goes into the general election campaign against former Houston Mayor Bill White (D). PPP found Tuesday that Perry and White were tied among voters, getting 43 percent each. An additional 14 percent of voters remain undecided. While there is party crossover support for both candidates, White is the clear beneficiary — he garnered 15 percent of Republicans, while Perry got 10 percent of Democrats.

Another major issue appears to be support from independent voters. PPP noted today that while independents supported Perry by a 47-36 percent margin in a February poll, they now support White 42-36 percent. It is not clear to what extent the nasty primary fight between Perry and Hutchison, which Fox News characterized as “highly personal,” turned independents against Perry and the party.

Jillson disputes whether there has truly been a shift away from Perry as a result of the primary. In particular, he said he does not think independent voters have shifted away from the two-term incumbent to the degree PPP indicated in its poll.

“I don’t believe that shift,” he said.

Jillson said other recent polls of the race have not showed numbers similar to PPP’s. A Rasmussen Reports poll released June 18, for instance, showed some tightening of the race but indicated Perry led White 48-40 percent.

Whether or not the PPP poll is an outlier, Jillson said, “Bill White would be absolutely out of his mind” to not campaign as though he was significantly down in the polls.

Jillson said he believes a majority of Hutchison’s supporters will end up supporting Perry in the general election, but some may decide to vote for White.

“A good number believe she was badly treated,” he said.

Updated at 5:10 p.m.

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