Her decision played right into the hands of Perry, who had been saying she should remain in Washington. Now she appeared to be conceding the point.

"We appreciate that Senator Hutchison has taken the governor's advice and finally decided to make a decision to stay in Washington," Perry spokesman Mike Miner said in a press release after her announcement. "Hopefully, this will allow her to be a full-time senator for the people of Texas."

SMU's Jillson thinks her decision to delay her resignation is a strategic mistake. "If there is a concern among voters about Hutchison, it's not so much substantive as much as if she has the fire in the belly," he says. "She needs to convince people that this is her race to make, and she intends to take the governorship from Rick Perry against his will."

Governor Rick Perry
Danny Fulgencio
Governor Rick Perry
U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Perhaps that was her intention the day after her announcement, when she restated unequivocally that she would resign in March, and reiterated her personal commitment to the race by upping the stakes for herself. She told the Texas Federation of Republican Women in Galveston that regardless of who wins the gubernatorial primary, she would be stepping down in 2010 before her term expired—meaning, if she beats him, she is out of the Senate, but if he beats her, she is out of politics.

Of course, she's been known to change her mind.

If Perry's early antics are any indication, voters should brace themselves for a bloody brawl when the campaigns kick into high gear after the January filing deadline. The Perry campaign has characterized the race as Washington vs. Texas, punctuating its dubbing of her as "Kay Bailout" by delivering a cake to her headquarters on the anniversary of her vote supporting the federal government's bailout of financial institutions.

The pomp and circumstance that should have greeted the formal announcement of her candidacy on August 17 was instead met by an airplane flying a banner that read: "Kay Come Clean—Release Your Taxes." But even Hutchison's own handlers scripted the event poorly. It was staged at the high school where she graduated in 1961 in her hometown of La Marque in Galveston County. It started late, was wheelchair inaccessible so the mayor of Texas City couldn't join her on the podium and was so thinly attended that to make the event worthy of a photo op, her staff had to ask the audience to leave its bleacher seats in the gym and crowd together onto the floor. At other campaign stops, Perry's campaign wheeled out a rolling billboard criticizing her record in Congress, and campaign workers were spotted wearing pig noses and accused the senator of voting for pork.

"It's cute, but it's mostly about psychological warfare on the opposition, and it's definitely juvenile," says Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Quorum Report, an online political newsletter based in Austin.

It's not as though the Perry campaign has itself been devoid of political blunder:

In late September, Perry came under fire after The Dallas Morning News exposed an "Amway-style program" called Perry Home Headquarters, which offers cash to volunteers who sign up other volunteers to Perry's campaign.

The following day, Perry abruptly dismissed three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which two days later was scheduled to hear testimony from Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized fire expert hired by the panel to review the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Perry dismissed a fourth member on October 9, which completed his housecleaning of the commission.

In 2004, Willingham was executed for the arson-murder of his three young daughters who died in a house fire as he watched in the front yard. Beyler had released a report in August casting doubts about whether arson was involved in the killings, claiming investigators had a "poor understanding of fire science" and had misread burn patterns.

Although other evidence suggests Willingham was guilty, Perry's decision to dismiss commission members prompted scathing editorials across the state. The governor's explanation—that their terms had expired—and his refusal to release the clemency report he received before denying Willingham's stay of execution led to speculation that Willingham could become the first person executed since capital punishment had resumed in 1974 to be proven innocent. Not the best résumé item for someone with presidential ambitions.

"Governor Perry is acting almost Nixonian in his failure to release all the documentation that his eyes saw in making this determination," Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hank Gilbert says. "It could really lead someone to believe that there's something contained in that material that's so blatantly obvious that would have cleared this guy or at least stayed his execution."

The Hutchison campaign seemed to steer clear of the issue.

Perry took another hit on October 21 when the chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sought $1,000 to $5,000 donations for a Perry fund-raiser. José Cuevas, a Midland restaurateur and Perry appointee to the TABC, solicited contributions from hundreds of restaurants that serve alcohol. The governor's campaign claimed Cuevas was acting as a restaurateur, not in his capacity as TABC chair. But Perry hasn't explained why Cuevas' actions aren't improper, given his campaign manager in 1990 called similar behavior "reprehensible" when a grain and seed regulator solicited campaign contributions from those he regulated during Perry's run for agriculture commissioner.

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