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In Texas, Anti-Washington Trumps Anti-Incumbent

Texas incumbent Rick Perry today won the Republican primary to be his party’s nominee for governor for the third time, securing 51 percent of the vote against Kay Bailey Hutchison’s 31 percent. Although about a quarter of the returns remain to be counted at this point, Perry further appears as though he’ll secure the outright majority necessary to avoid a run-off.

The results are not particularly surprising in light of recent polls, all of which since October had shown Perry leading, usually by double digit margins. Indeed, what was a hotly-anticipated race going in — it’s unusual to have a sitting U.S. Senator challenge an incumbent governor from her own party — has turned into something of an anti-climax, as Hutchison failed to make the race close enough to secure earned media or much in the way of momentum.

Still — while minding the usual caveats about the perils of drawing lessons from any individual race — it’s interesting to compare the messages that each candidate put forward during the campaign. Perry’s was an anti-Washington message, focusing in particular on Hutchison’s support for the federal bailouts and her role in creating the nation’s ever-expanding debt:


Although not all of Perry’s ads were negative, his more upbeat and positive spots tended to focus on the same themes.

Hutchison, by contrast, ran on a somewhat muddled and generic anti-incumbent message. Her last couple of attack ads, like the one below, devolved into literally just stringing together random pull quotes from local newspapers (“lobbyists!” “bully pulpit!” “ethical clouds!”) while failing to cohere into any one rationale for voting against Perry:


This is not to suggest that Perry has necessarily navigated his way through any trouble; the general election campaign against Bill White, a moderate Democrat who is the Mayor of Houston, is considered to be a toss-up. And he may be better off than most incumbents because Texas has had somewhat fewer employment problems than most large states, with its unemployment rate topping out at 8.3 percent. But as tough as this cycle is liable to be on statehouse incumbents, it’s much, much worse for incumbents in Washington.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.