Monday, October 2, 2006

DENTON, Texas — Turnout is key for the Texas governor’s race, says Kinky Friedman, a political outsider who thinks his unorthodox campaign to “toss out all the politicians” is moving him closer to the governor’s mansion.

“If only 29 percent of Texas’ registered voters turn out — like last time,” Mr. Friedman told cheering college students here Friday, “[incumbent] Rick Perry will hang on by his lightly varnished fingertips.

“If we get a good turnout, I’ll be your next governor.”

Mr. Friedman, 61, known by two generations as a musician, mystery writer and comedian, is one of two write-in candidates for governor.

He and former Republican Carole Keeton Strayhorn — now the state comptroller — each came up with more than 45,000 signatures of registered voters to be on the Nov. 7 ballot as independents.

Mr. Perry, who will be in position to become the state’s longest-serving chief executive if he wins his second full term, is the Republican candidate. Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman, is the Democratic candidate.

Libertarian candidate James Werner is not expected to be a factor.

The winner of the race does not have to get a majority of the vote — only a plurality. Many predict the winner could receive as little as 37 percent or 38 percent of the vote.

Many political observers have agreed with Mr. Friedman’s evaluation that turnout is key.

Several polls show Mr. Perry leading, but not overwhelmingly.

Mr. Perry’s three main challengers have criticized the governor for refusing several debate opportunities.

“None of this would be an issue,” said Bell spokesman Jason Stanford, “if Rick Perry had the guts to debate more than once. Clearly, his whole strategy is to minimize his exposure and to have to defend his miserable record as little as possible.”

The one debate in which he will participate is scheduled to be held in Dallas on Friday, the night before the annual Texas-Oklahoma football game.

“The governor’s strategy is to have as few people as possible actually see this debate,” said Strayhorn spokesman Mark Sanders.

Mr. Friedman called Mr. Perry’s refusal of another debate “cowardly.”

“My record’s not exactly unknown,” Mr. Perry replied during an interview with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board Thursday, “and I think one debate is enough.”

The lone Friday debate will be “a circus,” he added.

Mr. Friedman, dressed in his usual black shirt, blue jeans, black hat and ever-present unlit cigar, seemed to resonate with the hundreds of students who packed two university auditoriums here.

He spoke of “throwing out the politicians,” refusing to accept campaign money from lobbyists and “tossing out” those on state university boards and replacing them with students.

Mr. Perry and Mrs. Strayhorn have unleashed heavy television advertising in recent days. Mr. Bell and Mr. Friedman have countered with a carefully placed handful.

All polls place Mr. Perry in the lead. Early in the year, he hovered at the 40 percent mark; however, he has been slipping in the past few months.

A Rasmussen poll released two weeks ago had Mr. Perry at 33 percent, Mrs. Strayhorn at 22, Mr. Bell at 18 and Mr. Friedman at 16.

Zogby International’s poll released earlier this month had Mr. Perry at 31 percent, Mr. Bell at 25 percent, Mr. Friedman at 22 percent and Mrs. Strayhorn at 11 percent.

Gregory Rocha, a political science professor at University of Texas at El Paso, said that although support for Mr. Perry is slipping, the governor is likely to win, barring some last-minute scandal.

But Mr. Friedman’s supporters aren’t counting out their colorful candidate.

“He may not win,” said Allison Edwards, a 23-year-old graduate student at North Texas State University. “But I think if Kinky can sign up enough new voters in the next few days, he’ll give it a heck of a run.”

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