Despite what many have cited as ridiculously difficult ballot qualification requirements, both State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and entertainer Kinky Friedman are now more than qualified to be on the ballot in as independents in the Texas Governor’s race this November.
Strayhorn turned in about 223,000 petition signatures on Tuesday and Friedman turned in about 169,000 yesterday, beating their required number of signatures by a factor of more than 4 to 1 and 3 to 1 respectively, and making it in under an incredibly tight deadline, gathering all their signatures in less than two months and drawing on only those voters who did not vote in the primary this spring.
Verifying the petition signatures will take some time as Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams has them all manually verified in the slowest and most painstaking method possible – including calling many of the signers on the phone – in order to reduce the campaigning time for the two candidates. Strayhorn had filed a lawsuit to try to speed up the procedure, but it was rejected by the court.
Despite these difficulties momentum for the independent candidates seems to be snowballing. Driving around Austin and the surrounding area Friedman bumper stickers are everywhere, followed by small numbers of Strayhorn stickers. Supporters of Perry are few and far between and no one seems to have even heard of Democrat Chris Bell.
Bell is trying to make the best of the situation and point out that Friedman and Strayhorn are likely to draw more votes from Perry than they are from him, but despite the desperate scenarios thrown out by groups like the Lonestar Project who claim this situation guarantees a Bell win, the truth is that Bell has little name recognition or money, and both independent candidates got more ballot signatures than Bell got in the Democratic primary where turnout was extremely low, likely because voters wanted to remain eligible to sign Friedman or Strayhorn petitions.
Perry’s campaign has commented frequently and derisively about the petition drive, pointing out that the total petition signatures for Strayhorn were only a small fraction of the vote in the last election. While this may be true, those signatures were gathered in only a few weeks from a very limited pool of qualified signers, and likely represent a fraction of the number of votes the two independents will be able to generate in the election. Even if the independents get only twice as many votes as they got signatures, that would be more votes than the rather large margin between Perry and his opponent in the last gubernatorial election.
The conventional wisdom from both the Democrats and the Republicans is that the impact of the two independents on the election will be minimal, but Strayhorn has an established base of support and Friedman seems to be generating substantial grassroots interest which transcends party boundaries and reaches beyond the normal limits of politics to draw in a remarkable amount of interest from those disenchanted with politics as usual. The conventional wisdom has Perry winning with around 40%, Bell second in the mid-30s , Strayhorn in the low 20s and Friedman in the single digits. I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that the numbers are just about backwards because the analysts just aren’t figuring in the massive voter dissatisfaction with the system and with Perry. I see a very real possibility of a surprise Friedman win, Perry second in a close struggle with Strayhorn in the mid-20s and Bell forgotten in last place in the single digits.
One subject which is dominating the polls and on which the entire election may hinge is the issue of gratuitous toll roads and massive development of megahighways like the Trans Texas Corridor. Perry is the only candidate to support these projects which are widely hated by Texans of all political persuasions.
Perry’s role in developing and promoting these boondoggles and the favoritism he has shown to cronies and political allies while riding roughshod over the best interests of the public, have made him far more unpopular than he and his campaign staff seem to realize. In small towns threatened by the highway projects and among urban consumers facing huge and unnecessary toll expenses for highways already funded with taxes and bonds but now being turned into toll-roads as a form of hidden taxation, Perry is literally hated and despised as the symbol of corrupt and rapacious government completely out of touch with public interest.
Perry may be lucky to hold onto anything beyond the 20% of the votes controlled by the Baptist bluehairs and the hardcore religious right as election day nears.