White blames straight-ticket voting for defeat

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by Doug Miller/11 News

khou.com

Posted on November 11, 2010 at 12:14 AM

HOUSTON --  If Bill White is upset about losing the Texas governor's race, he doesn't show it.

Relaxed, grinning and quietly joking in his Memorial area home overlooking the woods around Buffalo Bayou, White said in his first interview since election night that the straight-ticket arithmetic was stacked against him.

"Here's the math," he figured.  "About 600,000 more people cast straight-ticket votes for Republicans than for Democrats.  So when you're 600,000 in the hole, that's pretty tough place to start an election."

The former Houston mayor was counting on a heavy turnout of centrist, independent voters who would cast their votes without regard to political party.  Instead, he slammed into one of the biggest walls of straight-ticket voters in recent Texas-political history. 

"I think the unexpected thing in the election was the sheer size of the margin between straight party Republican voters and straight party Democratic voters -- and the number of straight party voters," White said.

And Perry, whose election night acceptance speech lectured the political establishment in Washington, spent much of his campaign talking about national themes, which appealed to voters irate about the state of the nation.

"One thing that Rick Perry, and some people did successfully was, is try to make the election of our governor, instead of being about who should be the chief executive of the state, (became) 'Send a message to Washington.'  And I knew that was a risk," White said.

White upset some of his fellow Democrats when he decided against meeting with President Barack Obama during a presidential visit a few weeks before Election Day. 

The former mayor said he didn't want to back out of previous commitments, but some Democrats -- particularly African-Americans -- didn't buy White's explanation and decided they wouldn't vote for him.  In response to the question, White denied he was afraid of having his picture taken with Obama.

"No, because I figured that they would just make one up," he said.  "I mean, actually, people said they saw my picture with the president on TV ads."

Looking back on his political career, White confirmed that political insiders advised him to run for governor four years ago.  That was shortly after his nationally praised leadership of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, when hundreds of thousands of storm victims evacuated to Houston. 

At the time, Perry was considered so politically vulnerable he attracted three challengers.  (Perry ultimately won with only 39 percent of the vote.)  White said "the numbers looked good," but he decided he had an obligation to finish his tenure as Houston mayor.

"I personally do not see how somebody could both run for statewide office effectively and hold (the mayor's) position," White said.  "You'd have to resign.  You know, work full time on it.  And my parents didn’t raise me that way."

The former Houston mayor was non-committal, but he wouldn't rule out running for U.S. Senate in 2012 or governor again in 2014.

"I've seen people, you've seen people, who've been in politics who, if they weren't holding office, they just seemed like they were not happy or out of sorts," he said.  "I'm not that way at all."

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