HOUSTON—In the final two days of campaigning and trailing Governor Rick Perry in the polls, Bill White might miss his days running for Houston mayor when he defeated rivals by huge margins.
But duplicating his Houston popularity across the Texas to unseat a conservative Republican who has held the office for the longest stretch in history was never going to be easy.
"There’s an anti-Washington tide and you know that Rick Perry is trying to put me in the same TV ads as the President," White told 11News last week in Dallas at one of his campaign offices.
White said Perry wants to make the campaign about something other than Texas.
"He can’t really defend his own record of high drop rates and unemployment higher than in neighboring states," he said.
White had never run for public office until 2003 when he became a candidate for Houston mayor. At the time, he was virtually unknown to voters.
Raised in San Antonio, White graduated from Harvard and law school at the University of Texas. He went to work as a lawyer in Houston and later became the Deputy Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration. He later helped found an oil and gas exploration company in Houston, Frontera Resources Inc.
As his campaign for mayor gathered momentum, attack ads began hitting the airwaves.
"White is a liberal Democrat with a long record of supporting liberals," said a 2003 radio ad by the Harris County GOP.
But he ended up winning wide support, with the public electing and re-electing him as mayor three times by huge margins. So it was no real surprise last year when White decided to run for governor. And maybe equally unsurprising is how he again is being labeled "too liberal" and is being linked to President Barack Obama.
In one video by the Perry campaign, children sing lyrics to the tune of the old TV show, "The Brady Bunch". Viewers see the familiar tic-tac-toe graphic, this time filled with national Democratic politicians.
"Here’s the story, of Barack Obama, with a team of liberals of his own. Selling hope and change and higher taxes and government control," the lyrics read.
White counters that he’s winning support from across the political spectrum.
"People are surprised our staff, our donors, our volunteers are from both political parties. They’re not used to that. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that in Texas and we’re ready for it again," said White.
While the polls are a problem for White, he’s winning among newspaper editorial boards. Whitehas picked up endorsements from some of the state’s biggest newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle, which have praised him for being fiscally conservative.
"Management is a tough business of getting more out of less and for that, you need somebody who’s done that and managed. That’s what I did in the City of Houston," White said.
But not so, says the Perry campaign. One Perry ad charges that under White, the city of Houston spent more than it took in, attributing the information to current Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
Parker later said the quote was out of context and that Houston was essentially well-run financially under White.