AUSTIN — The much-anticipated confrontation between the state's top two political titans opened Monday as U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison formally launched her campaign to oust Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary, telling Texans that it's time to retire the state's longest-serving governor. Perry's campaign fired back by depicting Hutchison as a classic Washington insider.
The opening volleys in the Republican gubernatorial race generally echoed and broadened themes that have been in play for weeks, with Hutchison blaming Perry's leadership for a litany of ills, including skyrocketing tuition costs, rising unemployment and one of the nation's highest drop-out rates. Perry's camp sought to deflect the assertions, saying that the incumbent governor has helped mold Texas into one of the nation's leading success stories.
The exchanges, said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, underscore the candidates' intentions to use "very sharp elbows early on. It's not even Labor Day yet and it's bound to get worse."
Hutchison, who has been in the Senate since 1993, opened the campaign in her hometown of La Marque and ended the day in Austin at her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, after stops in Houston and San Antonio. A five-day, 19-city swing continues through Friday, when she will be in Fort Worth for a morning appearance at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Hutchison also plans a Metroplex stop Tuesday night at Eddie Deen's restaurant in Dallas.
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"Let me start by saying this about Rick Perry," Hutchison told rally audiences. "He's a dedicated public servant. I know he loves Texas. But now he's trying to stay too long — 14 years, maybe longer."
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