- Associated Press - Monday, October 18, 2010

HOUSTON (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry and his opponent, Democrat Bill White, both cast ballots — presumably for themselves — Monday, the first day of early voting in Texas.

“I voted right,” the Republican governor said after he and his wife, Anita, voted at an Austin grocery store.

Mr. White and his wife, Andrea, voted at a Houston community center. Mr. White, a former Houston mayor, told reporters he did not vote a straight Democratic ticket.

“I usually tend to go through office by office and position by position,” he said, adding, “We need to get away from this strident partisanship and the sound-bite politics.”

Before voting, Mr. Perry made a campaign stop with several Republican candidates for statewide office, including Sen. John Cornyn and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

On Sunday, Mr. White, who has distanced himself from President Obama during the tight gubernatorial race, worked to increase turnout among black voters and rally his Democratic base.

Although Mr. White has stressed cross-party appeal in the race, he struck a more partisan tone Sunday, which he began at four predominantly black churches in north Texas.

He also campaigned in a largely black neighborhood in Fort Bend County, once the stronghold of former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay but now considered a bellwether in statewide elections.

“Let’s turn out our base,” yelled Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage, a black Democrat who helped introduce Mr. White at the rally. “Our base is going to get us there … it’s shoe leather, baby.”

At the Teal Run community park and recreation center in Fresno, Mr. White portrayed Mr. Perry — who has aligned himself with the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party — as “somebody who uses state office to create a right-wing political machine.” Mr. White also made hay out of Mr. Perry’s upcoming book, “Fed Up!” about the perceived overreach of the federal government.

“We’re only one of a handful of states where there is no majority ethnic group,” Mr. White said, “but we’re the ones whose governor has a book on sale co-authored with Newt Gingrich.”

Boos rose from the crowd at the mention of Mr. Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker and a firebrand conservative who helped lead a shutdown of the U.S. government in a battle with Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1995.

The Perry campaign said Mr. Gingrich wrote an introduction to the book but was not a co-author.

Mr. White also criticized Mr. Perry’s repeated focus on “states’ rights,” a phrase Southern governors once used to defend segregation. The phrase remains unpopular with many black voters.

Mr. Perry repeatedly has sought to tie Mr. White to Mr. Obama, even though Mr. White has criticized spending in Washington and the federal health care overhaul.

Mr. White angered some black voters when he decided not to meet with Mr. Obama when the president visited Texas in August, but as the election draws near, some black voters and elected officials said they’re in a forgiving mood.

“Obama is my president … but if hugging him is going to hurt your campaign, why would you do something to hurt your campaign?” asked former state Judge Morris Overstreet, who is black.

Mr. Obama drove up turnout in the Teal Run neighborhood in 2008 and won almost half the vote countywide, handing a Fort Bend County commissioner seat long held by a Republican to Democrat Richard Morrison. Sporting a red Obama hat at the rally Sunday, Mr. Morrison, who is white, said it made sense for Mr. White to show up at the community center.

“The (White) campaign is not stupid,” Mr. Morrison said. “This is the best Democratic box in the county.”

Mr. Perry visited churches in the Dallas suburbs on Sunday and held an event in rural Cleburne. Mr. Perry is the longest serving governor in Texas history and is running for a third term.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said Mr. White “is for increased taxes and supporting the policies of Obama,” and he called Mr. Perry a “proven and effective leader” who will keep taxes low and help spur economic growth.

Texans can vote early at any polling place in their county between Monday and Oct. 29. Hours of operation vary by county.

Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report from Austin, Texas.


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