Hoots and hollers greeted Gov. Rick Perry as he stepped to the podium Tuesday night after accepting a concession from rival Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson.
Perry, the incumbent who will face Democrat Bill White in November’s general election, held a watch party at the Salt Lick Barbecue in Driftwood. His supporters drank beer and wine, smiled and chatted around a campfire as they watched Perry hold a steady lead throughout the night.
The governor consistently maintained the 51 percentage points needed to avoid a run-off throughout the night.
The day Texas celebrated 174 years of statehood, Perry reveled in a milestone of his own. The win paves the Republican’s way to an unprecedented third consecutive four-year term as governor.
“I’m not surprised,” said Michael Guzman, economics senior and Perry supporter, who attended the party. “I’m very happy because I’m a big Perry supporter and I think Texas is doing very well.”
Perry had his sights set on Washington since the beginning of the campaign. He portrayed Hutchinson as a Washington D.C. insider, out of touch with Texans. Her vote for the TARP bailout, and an increasing anti-Washington wave sweeping the nation, helped cement the comfortable double-digit lead he held for most of the race.
“We’re taking the country back,” Perry said in his acceptance speech. “This election was about hardworking Texans sending Washington a simple, compelling message: stop spending all the money.”
There was little doubt Perry would be the top republican on the ticket at the end of the night. The only concern among supporters was whether he could avoid a runoff with Hutchison.
Debra Medina, a nurse who gained support after performances at the gubernatorial debates, increased that danger by arguably being the most conservative republican on the ticket, potentially splitting the ticket for Perry.
“Everybody was really confident,” said Guzman,Supreme Court justice. “Some people were a little nervous it could go into a runoff. But we’re all sure he’ll come out with a victory in November.”
Hutchinson announced she was conceding from the race shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday night at Eddie Deen’s Ranch in Dallas in front of a crowd of approximately 250 supporters.
“We have fought valiantly for our principles, but we have not won,” Hutchison said. “I have called governor Perry and congratulated him on his victory.”
Among the Hutchinson supporters was Kenneth Mayfield, Dallas County commissioner. Mayfield once supported Perry when he ran for lieutenant governor and then during his first bid for the governor’s seat. Mayfield has since disagreed with Perry’s plans for the Trans-Texas corridor, toll-ways and his executive order to mandate teenage girls receive HPV shots.
“Perry has done so many things to feather his own nest,” Mayfield said. “With Perry, you don’t get the type of decisions that are best for Texas, you get the types of decisions that are best for him and the people he likes.”
White, who handily defeated his opponent, Houton Hair-care mogul Farouk Shami, gave his victory speech at Intercontinental Hotel in Houston. He said leadership is key in the gubernatorial race.
“Leadership is bringing people together on common ground so our state can move forward,” White said. “That’s what we’re going to do in this election.”
White expressed his views on Perry’s leadership in regard to creating jobs for Texas.
“Rick Perry and his consultants and insiders will take credit for all the good times in Texas,” White said. “They say they’ve created jobs that, in fact, have been created by a lot of businesses in this state. They don’t mind taking credit for somebody else’s work, but they won’t take responsibility for the fact that today there’s almost a million Texans who are unemployed.”
White touched on the issue of education in Texas.
“Texans from those earliest days had something in common,” White said. “They all dreamed of each generation having more opportunities than the last. As governor, I want to work hard to make sure every Texan — every young Texan — has more opportunities than people my age and that we leave this state better than we found it.”
Texas politicos have regarded White as the strongest democratic candidate for governor since the late governor Ann Richards. He still has an uphill battle in a state as red as Texas.
“I think the message is pretty clear,” Perry said. “Conservatism has never been stronger than it is today.”
— Reporting contributed by Mika Allison