Two weeks ago, I wrote that the top Republican candidates for governor of Texas actually lost their nationally televised C-SPAN2 primary debate to a tea party upstart named Debra Medina. She was cool, calm, collected (and, of course, nuts).
Guess what? It happened again Friday night. This is getting fun.
The national media has covered recent electoral challenges by tea partiers around the country (NY, Florida, etc.), yet not the unfolding insurgency in Texas. This is odd considering that the well known repubs in the governor's race are so high profile.
After all, there's Rick Perry, the ten-year incumbent who openly flirted with seceding from the Union last summer, battling against a sitting U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison. That's good stuff, in theory. (Waiting in the wings for the fall election is the dull but competent Democrat, Bill White, former mayor of Houston.)
Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush as governor, has long courted the far right religious crowd, while Hutchison is perceived as moderate, despite sharing virtually every view with him. She has also, interestingly, secured the endorsements of Team Bush, from Karl Rove to Karen Hughes to James Baker. Perry isn't beloved by his party's establishment, it seems. (Comment added February 2: George H.W. Bush -- père Poppy -- and his wife Barbara, as well as Dick Cheney, have also endorsed Hutchison. George W. Bush -- fils Shrub -- has not endorsed as of this date. Sorry for the oversight.)
Into this mix strolls the libertarian tea partier, Debra Medina. A small-towner, she's pushing guns, guns, guns and an end to all property taxes. She's a double loon, in other words, and is eating away at Perry's base.
She wants to scotch all property tax (a plan more Draconian than the disastrous Prop. 13 in California, which was merely a roll-back), and replace the gazillions in lost revenue with massively "expanded" sales tax which she admits could rise from the current 6.75% to a staggering 14% or more. Never mind that such an increase would A/ eat the poor, B/ bust municipal and county budgets statewide, and C/ not hurt the rich in the least. This is bizarre because her supporters are hardly the wealthy class.
Medina also wants to pack heat everywhere, including at her local grocery store. Her modern read of the Second Amendment seems to be that everyone should be armed, everywhere, at all times.
The thing is, she delivers these wacky prescriptions with a sincere bedside manner and cadence that would make Dick Cheney proud, bless her heart.
After the first televised tussle in mid January, where Medina went unassailed by her fellow candidates, her poll numbers jumped from nowhere to 12-15%. That level of support, although well behind Perry and Hutchison at the moment, nonetheless puts her in position to force a runoff between them after the March 2 primary, something Perry doesn't want to happen.
One fully expected that in round two Friday night, the cutlery would come out, especially Perry's, since he clearly has the most to lose from a Medina surge. Remarkably, it didn't happen.
Again she stood toe to toe with the far more experienced pols, again she acquitted herself well (better than in the first debate, which she also won), and again Perry ignored her full frontal assault on his leadership and governance. She ignored sister Kay until a late swipe.
Can Medina generate some serious internet contributions, and fast? If so, she's a player. No doubt she's benefiting from the oily and creepy Perry, and the weak and ineffectual Hutchison. Still, that's what elections are all about.
One final note: In a "jeopardy" round of questioning, the candidates were queried about their basic statewide knowledge. Medina was asked if she knew the average salary of a public school teacher. She guessed $46,000 a year.
The correct answer? $46,100. Nothing but net, and she got to go last in delivering closing statements, too, lucky her.
Not bad, and the weekend newspaper coverage will reflect her success.
If you like politics, it's nothing short of fascinating to watch the Republican Party, and not just in the South, be taken over by its burgeoning Ron Paul wing.
This is really an unfolding story.