Tom noted earlier that Bill White has a potential voter pool among Republicans who disapprove of Rick Perry. But he also has room to improve by hammering one message more than any other: that Perry, in his third term already the longest-serving Texas governor in history, has been in the governor’s mansion too long. If White is the right candidate in the wrong year, that message is the right one for this cycle.
49% of likely Texas voters believe the governor, not legally term-limited, should be held to two terms, and a further 17% believe he should get only one term, meaning two-thirds of Texans think Rick Perry’s time has already expired.
Perry has the 15% of the folks who think there should be no term limit (81%) and the 11% who favor a limit longer than two terms (74%) mostly locked up, but White gets only 53% of the two-term folks, who constitute a near majority and clear plurality, to Perry’s 38%. He also only pulls 59% of the one-term voters, the next largest group, with Perry at 27%.
How big of an impact could strengthening this message be for White? If he were to get just two-thirds of those who favor a one- or two-term limit—still much less than Perry gets of the other groups—he would be beating Perry with about 50% of the vote, an eight-point gain over his current standing. White, theoretically, doesn’t even have to peel away many Perry voters, because 14% of the one-term folks and 9% of the two-termers are undecided in the horse race—almost 7% of the total electorate.
Term limits was a Republican issue in 1994, and I have a feeling that at least a decent chunk of Perry’s support among those who support one- or two-term limits comes from hypocritical Republicans like Newt Gingrich’s crew who broke their pledges when they signed the Contract with America and then perpetually ran for re-election. Indeed, a 39% plurality of the two-term supporters and a 38% minority of the one-termers are Republicans, and clearly not many of them are currently pledging for White. For these folks, party still trumps principle, and they won’t be very receptive to White, regardless of his message. But because Republican displeasure with Perry and the establishment is unusually high this year, there are still likely others who could be moved by a more fervent association between Perry and the idea that he has overstayed his welcome.
If White were to go even further and restrict himself to two terms, could this be not only an unlikely silver lining for the Democratic Party on Election Night, but also an ironic, Bizarro redux of 1994?