- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

JUSTIN, Texas | Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison offered what appeared to be her first acknowledgment that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has done some damage to her bid to unseat him by successfully casting her as a Washington insider.

Trailing in polls less than a week before the Republican primary, Mrs. Hutchison assessed the state of her campaign and Mr. Perry’s anti-Washington tactics to the Associated Press on Tuesday.

“It definitely has made it more difficult for me. I didn’t think that people would buy that because I’ve been so effective for Texas,” Mrs. Hutchison said on her campaign bus. “I didn’t think that anyone could turn my success in producing results for Texas into a negative, but I think that he has attempted to do that and that is what I’ve been having to fight against.”

In the interview, Mrs. Hutchison talked up her own record of bringing federal dollars to Texas and said she is working hard to turn out grass-roots supporters Tuesday to boost her into an April 13 runoff with Mr. Perry.

“I have protected Texas,” she said. “I’ve voted with Texas values. … I’m not Washington - I’m Texas.”

Mr. Perry seems to be riding a national wave of frustration directed at Washington politicians - the same anger that has fueled the “tea party” movement and complicated Democrats’ plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system. The long-serving governor, who has campaigned as a populist, has criticized Mrs. Hutchison for pushing earmarks and voting for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

Mrs. Hutchison, who has been in the Senate since winning a special election in 1993, spent much of Tuesday spreading her message that Mr. Perry’s attacks aren’t true. She accused the governor of cronyism and assailed his mostly abandoned Trans Texas Corridor toll road network that threatened private property.

“We appreciate the senator acknowledging our message is resonating with Texas voters,” Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner said in a statement.

Back in Austin, Mr. Perry saved up his response to Mrs. Hutchison’s cronyism charges until the last few days of the campaign. He provided the AP with records purporting to show that the law firm where Mrs. Hutchison previously worked with her husband, Ray, was found by a federal civil jury to have defrauded investors in a 1990s-era private prison deal.

Mrs. Hutchison’s campaign called the move an eleventh-hour dirty trick, saying the court had absolved Mr. Hutchison and his firm and that the civil jury was acting without proper authority.

The research book released by Mr. Perry revisits a controversy over private prisons in six Texas counties - prisons built with bond financing that the Hutchison law firm helped compile. The project was a financial disaster, and the state wound up buying the prisons at a fire-sale price. While Mr. Perry released the 1994 verdict, ordering defendants to pay almost $80 million, the Hutchison campaign released a 1993 court order that dismissed Mrs. Hutchison and his firm from the case after a settlement was reached. Neither campaign could explain the discrepancy.

Mr. Hutchison told the AP that Mr. Perry has been in office long enough.

“It’s just wrong for somebody to stay 14 years and become arrogant,” Mrs. Hutchison said. Mr. Perry is the state’s longest-serving governor, having moved up to the executive post in December 2000 when George W. Bush resigned to become president. Mr. Perry then won terms on his own in 2002 and 2006.

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