Perry finally received some good news three days later when the State Republican Executive Committee elected hardcore conservative Cathie Adams as the new chair of the Republican Party of Texas to finish out the term of Tina Benkiser, who stepped down to join Perry's reelection campaign.

"It's pretty clear the organizational Republican Party in the state has been pretty much totally captured by the extreme right, with Cathie Adams being the most recent example by winning the vote in their executive committee," University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray says.

Dallas County Republican Party chair Neerman, who subscribes to the big-tent approach, has traded jabs with Adams in the past and says she is the wrong person for the job. She has led an issue-based group—Texas Eagle Forum—that has attacked Republicans, he says, and now Adams has to shift gears and grow the party rather than purge it of those who don't subscribe to her views.

"I don't think that this leadership is what the Republican Party needs at this time," he says. "In fact, what's happened is we've set the party back five years."

Certainly Rick Perry wouldn't agree. He seems interested in purging the party of moderates and grabbed national attention while doing so in October after he endorsed the more conservative third-party candidate Doug Hoffman over moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava in the race for New York's 23rd Congressional District.

Perry, along with Sarah Palin and Dick Armey, supported Hoffman. Perry even sent a letter to Texas donors labeling Hoffman as "the true conservative candidate" and urging them to contribute "generously" to his campaign. "There is a reason that our party lost power in Washington, D.C.," Perry wrote. "A lot of folks went to Congress wearing the Republican jersey, but far too many played the game like Democrats."

Armey, in campaigning for Hoffman, told RedState, a conservative political blog, "We win when we are us. We lose when we are Democratic lite."

Their pressure may have forced the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Scozzafava to withdraw from the race just days before the election, but it wasn't enough to swing the election Hoffman's way—not after Scozzafava subsequently endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, who won the race on election night. (The results could be overturned: A recanvassing of votes has narrowed Owens' lead to 3,000 votes and another 5,800 absentee ballots have yet to be counted.)

Perry has also made moderate California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the butt of one of his stump speeches, comparing Texas, with its pro-business economic climate and Legislature that balances its budget, to California with its state government teetering on bankruptcy and Legislature in deficit-strapped gridlock. He told The Wall Street Journal in August that California needs a strong leader who will take the special interests out of government, cut spending and change its Constitution, but "Arnold squandered that chance."

Perry's political enmeshment beyond Texas, and his role as finance chair of the Republican Governors Association in helping secure important gubernatorial victories for Republicans Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey, could shed light on what some believe is his true motivation for remaining in office: making a run for the White House.

"That's a possibility now that his new good friend Sarah Palin is unlikely to run," the University of Houston's Murray says. "Social conservatives love [former Arkansas] Governor [Mike] Huckabee but doubt that he could be a serious candidate. If Mr. Perry is reelected governor of Texas, they might give him a good, hard look."

Hutchison and Perry are each expected to spend at least $20 million in the primary, and so far, neither candidate has raced significantly ahead of the other in fund-raising. Both seem fairly flush with $12.5 million in Hutchison's campaign account and $9.3 million in Perry's, according to mid-July campaign reports. The two have also neutralized each other in the battle of big-name endorsements with Perry nabbing Sarah Palin early on and Hutchison recently securing the backing of Dick Cheney.

A Rasmussen poll released on November 13 showed Perry leading Hutchison by 11 points—46 percent to 35 percent—with Wharton County Republican Party chair and Tea Party activist Debra Medina a distant third at 4 percent and 14 percent undecided. In mid-September, Rasmussen had Hutchison slightly ahead of Perry, 40 percent to 38 percent, but in mid-July, it was Perry ahead of Hutchison, 46 percent to 36 percent. With the race so contentious and in such a state of flux, the candidates are looking for any edge—fund-raising, endorsements, missteps—that can sell them to a divided party that has known them and voted for them for many years.

"We now have two reasonably popular Republicans in a bloodbath with each other," Kronberg says. "Everybody who is an active Republican understands the loser's supporters are going to be put into exile—they won't be able to play in politics anymore. So it's going to divide the fund-raising base; it's going to divide the supporter base; and it's going to damage the party for years to come."

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