Can a Democrat Become Governor in Texas?

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson talks to Time magazine about the chances of a Democrat being elected governor of Texas.

By Hilary Hylton

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry scored a convincing win earlier this month over U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, his rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, talk of a possible 2012 Perry presidential push began.

But before Perry can stride into the national arena he must win re-election this fall in what some say will be his toughest face-off with a Democrat yet — against former Houston mayor Bill White. Indeed, political analyst Charlie Cook has moved the Texas governor's race from "leaning Republican" to "toss-up" status.

White supporters point to his strong base in Houston (the state's largest city), his family roots in San Antonio and his ability to speak fluent Spanish, which is seen as a draw in the bluest part of the state, south Texas. . .

Still, some longtime Texas observers are not buying into rosy scenarios for Perry's challenger.

"It is going to be uphill for White to win," says Cal Jillson, political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Texas is the largest red state in the country. It tends to vote Republican by an eight, nine, ten points margin." That is in a normal year, Jillson says, not one where the political mood is downright rebellious.

That said, Jillson adds, it is only March and a significant Perry stumble or a major scandal could impact the race. Focus and discipline will be crucial in what will be long, hot summer.

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