- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

DALLAS — Possibly the strangest governor’s race ever run in Texas has heated up considerably, but despite millions being spent in the waning days, it seems almost a sure thing Republican Rick Perry will emerge victorious.

He still leads every poll, not by much, but apparently enough to win.

Because there are five candidates — four of them figured to garner double-digit percentages of the vote — Mr. Perry, 56, has to collect only a plurality to win. Most figure that to be 37 percent or 38 percent. A cluster of polls continually have given him 35 percent to 40 percent.

“When he wins, he should take Kinky and Grandma out to dinner because they did it for him,” said Ben W. Horton, a Dallas businessman yesterday at the Farmer’s Market here.

He was referring to the independent candidacies of Kinky Friedman, an entertainer-author and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the state comptroller, who have battered Mr. Perry all the way — to little avail for their personal numbers, it seems.

Were it not for them, the Democrat, former Rep. Chris Bell, 46, of Houston, might be much higher in the polls. Even with an influx of several million to his campaign this month, the best Mr. Bell can do is brag that “in the last three polls, I have been solidly in second place.”

Admittedly, many contend that is good effort for a less-than-exciting candidate who, when he first entered the race, was a poor fourth in the polls.

Heather Guntert, Mr. Bell’s press spokeswoman, thinks the Bell surge is solid and growing.

“Everything from the public polls to internal tracking is showing us anywhere from, at the closest, four points and at the most, nine points away from Perry,” she said. “Strayhorn and Kinky are trailing dramatically.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Bell tried to convince Mr. Friedman, 61, that the quick-witted ex-bandleader didn’t stand a chance and should quit the race, but that seemed only to drive the author even harder.

Nobody openly has suggested that Mrs. Strayhorn, 67, who swears that as “one tough grandma” she will “clean up Austin,” should step aside, but her campaign apparently hasn’t moved much since August, though she is second only to Mr. Perry in spending and television ads.

Meanwhile, James Werner, 44, the Libertarian candidate, is a distant last.

Apparently, it has come down to the Democrat versus the Republican, said Dallas political analyst John Weekley.

“I would be very surprised if Perry didn’t win with about 40 percent of the vote,” he said. “Of course, it depends on the turnout.”

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