Commentary: Hey Gov. Perry, that's no way to treat a lady

If Gov. Rick Perry loses the 2010 Republican primary, it won't be because he executed too many men or made too much fun of the recession.

No, if he loses, it'll be because he mocked a woman.

Six weeks into the campaign, the Cowboy Governor has forgotten the Code of the West:

A cowboy treats a woman like a lady.

Before Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had even announced her campaign for governor, Perry sent an airplane buzzing overhead to taunt her with the message "Kay Come Clean -- Release Your Taxes."

Since then, Perry's campaign has tailed Hutchison with a "Kay Bailout" truck billboard and dressed campaigners in pigs' noses to accuse her of voting for "pork."

Last week, on the anniversary of the banking relief vote, Perry's campaign put an unsmiling photo of Hutchison on a "birthday cake" and presented it to her headquarters.

In other words, the race has already sunk to the level of a student council campaign in Paint Creek or La Marque.

Fine. That's politics.

But Perry is also discounting and belittling Hutchison and another opponent, Wharton Republican Debra Medina, by pretending they are not really running against him.

Perry said last month that he doesn’t know "who all" is running or "even if I'm going to have a primary or not."

This month, he told The Dallas Morning News that the idea of running against him is "crazy" and "asinine."

Perry is treading perilously close to the failed 1990 path of Midland oil executive and rancher Clayton Williams, a macho West Texan who lost after he refused to shake Democrat Ann Richards' hand.

"There was this air of bravado that always seemed to get in his way," said the Rev. Jeanie R. Stanley of Georgetown, the author of a book about the campaign and now a Presbyterian pastor.

"Kay Bailey doesn't have the negatives against her that Richards had," said Stanley, author of Claytie and the Lady: Ann Richards, Gender, and Politics in Texas.

So Perry can't look like he's belittling or picking on her.

"That grandiose air -- I don't think that sells as well anymore," Stanley said.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Kathleen Dolan has written the definitive research paper, Running Against a Woman.

"There are voters who say, 'He shouldn't treat a lady that way,' " Dolan said.

"The voters are more traditional in Texas and the South. I do think Democrats are more sensitive than Republicans. But he has to be careful about overstepping decorum bounds."

He might have stepped in his own cake.