White courts Democratic base in Texas gov's race

October 18, 2010 5:05:26 AM PDT
Former Houston Mayor Bill White, who has distanced himself from President Barack Obama during his tight race for Texas governor, worked to increase turnout among black voters and rally his Democratic base a day before polls opened statewide. Early voting begins Monday in Texas, with both White and Republican Gov. Rick Perry expected to cast their ballots. Although White has stressed cross-party appeal in the race, he struck a more partisan tone Sunday, which he began at four predominantly black churches in North Texas.

He also campaigned in a largely black neighborhood in Fort Bend County, once the stronghold of former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay but now considered a bellwether in statewide elections.

"Let's turn out our base," yelled Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage, a black Democrat who helped introduce White at the rally. "Our base is going to get us there ... it's shoe leather, baby."

When White took the stage at the Teal Run community park and recreation center in Fresno, White portrayed Perry -- who has aligned himself with the Sarah Palin-wing of the Republican Party -- as "somebody who uses state office to create a right-wing political machine." White also made hay out of Perry's upcoming book, "Fed Up!" about the perceived overreach of the federal government.

"We're only one of a handful of states where there is no majority ethnic group," White said. "But we're the ones whose governor has a book on sale co-authored with Newt Gingrich."

Boos rose from the crowd at the mention of Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker and a firebrand conservative who helped lead a shutdown of the U.S. government in a battle with Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1995.

The Perry campaign said Gingrich wrote an introduction to the book but was not a co-author.

White also criticized Perry's repeated focus on "state's rights," a phrase Southern governors once used to defend segregation. The phrase remains unpopular with many black voters.

Perry has repeatedly sought to tie White to Obama, even though White has criticized spending in Washington and the federal health care overhaul.

White angered some black voters when he decided not to meet with Obama when the president visited Texas in August, but as the election draws near, some black voters and elected officials said they're in a forgiving mood.

"Obama is my president ... but if hugging him is going to hurt your campaign, why would you do something to hurt your campaign?" asked former state Judge Morris Overstreet, who is black.

Obama drove up turnout in the Teal Run neighborhood in 2008, and won almost half the vote countywide, handing a Fort Bend County commissioner seat long held by a Republican to Democrat Richard Morrison. Sporting a red Obama hat at the rally Sunday, Morrison, who is white, said it made sense for White to show up at the community center.

"The (White) campaign is not stupid," Morrison said. "This is the best Democratic box in the county."

White also staged a turnout rally in Galveston and had another planned in Houston.

Perry visited churches in the Dallas suburbs on Sunday, and held an event in rural Cleburne. Perry is the longest serving governor in Texas history, and is running for a third term.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said White "is for increased taxes and supporting the policies of Obama," and called Perry a "proven and effective leader" who will keep taxes low and help spur economic growth.

Meanwhile, White got the backing of the editorial boards of six more daily Texas newspapers on Sunday, including the San Antonio Express-News, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the San Angelo Standard-Times. White's previous endorsements include The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle.

Perry, who broke with tradition this year and chose not to seek newspaper endorsements, picked up the Waco Tribune-Herald's editorial board endorsement on Sunday.

Texans can vote early at any polling place in their county between Monday and Oct. 29. Hours of operation vary by county.

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