- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

DALLAS — The race for Texas governor began in earnest last week with state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn bolting the Republican Party to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry as an independent.

Most political analysts think that while the colorful Mrs. Strayhorn might inject more heat — and even fun — into the campaign, she has little chance of posing a serious challenge.

Another independent candidate has been hustling around the state for months — singer-comedian-author Kinky Friedman. But aside from spirited and folksy rhetoric, his campaign is not on fire, either.

In order to get on the ballot, Mrs. Strayhorn and Mr. Friedman must collect more than 45,000 signatures each from registered Texas voters who do not cast a ballot in either major-party primary this spring.

Four Democrats are vying for the Democratic endorsement in the March primary, with either former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Gammage or former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell expected to win. The other candidates, Felix Alvarado and Rashad Jafer, are virtual unknowns.

Mr. Perry will face three challengers in the Republican primary, Larry Kilgore, Rhett Smith and Star Locke — none of whom is widely known.

For several years, Mrs. Strayhorn has been moving up the ladder of Texas politics, from Austin’s mayor to the Texas Railroad Commission to the state comptroller’s office.

For much of her term as comptroller, she has bashed Mr. Perry, particularly on his inability to lead the state Legislature to finance the state’s burgeoning school system.

The system has been deemed by the courts to be unconstitutional, and Mr. Perry will call the Legislature back into special session within days to try to wrangle with the problem for the fifth time in three years.

Mrs. Strayhorn, who loves to be called “one tough grandma” (she has five grown sons and five granddaughters), hoped she would gain the backing of President Bush.

One of her sons, Scott McClellan, is Mr. Bush’s press secretary, and another, Mark McClellan, is administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But Scott McClellan had to break the news to her last week that Mr. Bush would back Mr. Perry.

Though disappointed that the president will not support her, she said she still considered him a friend.

“I love George Bush, and I love my son,” Mrs. Strayhorn said as she jetted to several Texas cities last week. “The president has got to do his job, and I’ve got to do my job. He’s still my good friend.”

Mr. Friedman welcomed Mrs. Strayhorn into the race.

“There’s plenty of room in the hot tub, and she’s welcome,” he said.

Democratic consultant Chuck McDonald said that Mrs. Strayhorn’s move was both good news and bad news for Mr. Perry.

“The good news is that this is an admission that she can’t beat him,” said Mr. McDonald, who added: “But it also means he’s going to have Carole Strayhorn bashing him over the head until November.”

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