Today’s Texas Primary: The Right, The Far Right, And The Really Far Right

Today is a big day in Texas, with voters going to the polls in the primary election for governor and other races. The top-ticket item is the Republican primary, in which incumbent Gov. Rick Perry is being challenged by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Tea Party activist Debra Medina.

Perry enjoys a substantial lead in the polls, but could end up falling short of the 50 percent support needed to avoid a runoff in April. The TPM Poll Average has Perry with 44.4%, Hutchison 28.9%, and Medina 17.6%.

The most interesting part of this race is just how Perry went from vulnerable to being out front, and the rise of the Tea Party narrative in the campaign.It’s hard to remember this, but Hutchison actually started this race well ahead. In February 2009, a survey from Public Policy Polling (D) put her ahead of Perry by 56%-31%. Perry built up his following with a full-hearted embrace of the Tea Party movement — going so far as to publicly flirt with secession, which polling data showed was approved of by Texas Republican voters.

As Perry built up support in the polls, Hutchison made a stunning announcement this past November: That she would not resign her Senate seat, as she had previously planned to do in order to run full time. A recent Rasmussen poll at about that time put Perry ahead by 46%-35%, and also showed that 60% of likely primary voters disagreed with her plans to resign. This situation put her between a rock and a hard place — not resigning meant she was “from Washington” in a political sense, and resigning would have made her out to be abandoning the state in order to focus on being a politician.

In recent weeks, Hutchison admitted that Perry’s anti-Washington campaign had been effective. “It definitely has made it more difficult for me. I didn’t think that people would buy that because I’ve been so effective for Texas,” said Hutchison. “I didn’t think that anyone could turn my success in producing results for Texas into a negative, but I think that he has attempted to do that and that is what I’ve been having to fight against.”

Another amazing development in past weeks was the rise (and seeming fall) of Tea Party activist Debra Medina. A PPP survey put her just barely behind Hutchison, and thus in serious contention for a runoff slot. When closer scrutiny was applied, however, Medina began stumbling over her flirtations with Trutherism, Birtherism, and the anti-government “Oath Keepers” movement. Since then, Medina’s poll numbers have fallen significantly, and she seems likely to come in third place.

But just think about this: Among these three candidates, Rick Perry has become positioned as the relative middle-of-the-road choice, simply because Medina is so far out on the right.

Also on the agenda for tonight is the Democratic gubernatorial primary, in which Houston Mayor Bill White is favored to win the nomination. The TPM Poll Average has Perry leading White in a general election, by a margin of 48.3%-40.5%. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is being challenged by conservative activist David Smith, but is favored to win renomination.

The polls in most of the state will close at 8 p.m. ET, and results will start coming in soon after that. A small portion of the state is in the Mountain Time Zone, and their polls will close at 9 p.m. ET.