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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

On Tuesday, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced that she was endorsing Rick Perry, Texas’ incumbent governor, who is expected to run for a third term in office in 2010. Perry may face a vigorous challenge from Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is reportedly giving strong consideration to dropping out of the Senate to pursue a gubernatorial bid.

So Palin is basically picking Perry over Hutchison. But why is she doing so? Why feel the need to get involved in the race at all?

Texas is a big state and will have a lot of delegates up for grabs during the Republican primaries in 2012. Having the favor returned in the form of an endorsement from Perry would be valuable to Palin at that time.

The problem is that Rick Perry isn’t especially likely to be Texas’s governor in 2012. Rather, Hutchison is. A Texas Lyceum (.pdf) poll conducted in June showed Hutchison with a 36-22 lead over Perry among prospective Republican primary voters. Hutchison also polled the race herself, and — the usual caveats about internal polls applying — gave herself a 55-31 lead over Perry. And Perry’s approval ratings are well below par, with 42 percent of Texans saying he’s doing a good job as governor and 58 percent a poor one.

I happened to be watching Hutchison give an interview moments after Palin’s name was announced as John McCain’s VP pick in Septmeber, and she was — shall we say — rather nonplussed about the situation, scowling the whole time as she searched for ways to damn Palin with faint praise. Hutchison, of course, may also be eying a 2012 bid of her own — and in the dumbed-down world that we live in, the perception may be that there’s no room for more than one prominent female candidate in the GOP primary.

So this seems intended as an elbow in Hutchison’s ribs. Whether this is personally motivated on Palin’s behalf or there is some political calculation by which this makes sense is hard to say. But in either event, it looks to me like she’s bet on the wrong horse, and the move shouldn’t inspire much confidence in Palin’s handlers.

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