Tagged as a creature of Washington, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Gov. Rick Perry in this week’s Texas Republican primary — a contest that Hutchison was once favored to win, until Perry rode a wave of anti-Washington sentiment to victory.
The Texas results aren’t encouraging for the nine U.S. lawmakers who are seeking the top office in their home states this year, when being linked to Washington is like wearing a scarlet letter.
Financial bailouts. Record high federal deficits. A sluggish economy. And runaway federal spending intended to spark an economic revival. All these issues have a fed a populist anger and the Tea Party Movement and given ammunition to gubernatorial candidates who don’t have day jobs in Washington.
Among the federal lawmakers campaigning for governor are six Republicans, Reps. Nathan Deal of Georgia, Zach Wamp of Tennessee, Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Gresham Barrett of South Carolina and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.
The two Democratic lawmakers running for governor are Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama and Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, who resigned last week to focus on the gubernatorial race.
Some of the lawmakers have already faced the same treatment as Hutchison in their primary races.
Barrett has come under fire for his support of President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. The conservative group Americans for Job Security is running radio and television ads, titled “Big Spending and Bailouts,” that says Barrett “is part of the problem” for winning $22.4 million in earmarks for the state and voting for the $700 billion bailout of the nation’s banks.
South Carolina’s two Republican senators came to Barrett’s defense on Thursday, arguing the ads unfairly characterize Barrett as a champion of Obama’s stimulus spending.
“Claiming Gresham was sympathetic to the Obama stimulus plan is not even close to the truth,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a written statement. “Like all the Republicans in our delegation, he worked very hard to defeat it.”
Sen. Jim DeMint said “an honest debate of policy differences will strengthen the conservative movement, not misleading ads.”
Barrett spokesman B.J. Boling said Barrett was the only member of the House delegation to vote against the bank bailout when that measure failed. He later voted for it under pressure from businesses back home, Boling said.
Stephen DeMaura, president of the Washington group, said Barrett is being singled out because he’s brought more stimulus money to the state than any other South Carolina congressman.
The ads could deal a fatal blow to Barrett’s campaign as he battles among a crowded field of Republicans.
Some lawmakers, eager to deflect the anti-Washington criticism, have taken pains to highlight their opposition to President Obama and his policies.
Rep. Deal, who was planning to resign March 8 to focus on his gubernatorial bid in Georgia, said Thursday he will wait until March 31 to step down so he can vote against health care reform.
“Having been deeply involved in all health care legislation for the past decade, I knew it was important to stay and vote down this bill,” Deal said in a written statement. “As I listened to President Obama’s aggressive push for a quick vote on ‘Obama-Care,’ it was clear that I must stay in Congress and continue to fight against the most liberal health care agenda ever proposed.”
Critics earlier had blasted Deal’s decision to leave, arguing it would make it easier for Democrats to push through a health care overhaul bill.
In the Texas primary, Perry amassed 50 percent of the vote to Hutchison’s 30 percent, avoiding a run-off. In his campaign, Perry fanned anti-Washington sentiment among Republican voters, portraying Hutchinson, the state’s senior senator, as part of a despised insider political culture.
In a conference call with reporters, Sen. John Cornyn called those attacks on Hutchinson “unfair.” According to The Dallas Morning News, Cornyn said Perry “was able to posture this as a campaign (of) ‘Are you for Texas or are you for Washington?’ Sen. Hutchison ended up being painted as someone who represented Washington, when clearly she has been representing the best interests of Texas in the United States Senate for a long time.”
‘The Associated Press contributed to this report.’