AUSTIN, Texas - Texas Gov. Rick Perry sought the GOP nomination for an unprecedented third four-year term Tuesday in a battle against another Republican heavyweight, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and a third candidate drawing support from the state's tea party movement.
Angry protest voters backing conservative activist Debra Medina could force the governor and Hutchison into an April 13 runoff election, if no candidate gets a majority.
The courtly Hutchison was once seen as the candidate who could hand Perry the first loss of his long political career. But the governor, a darling of social conservatives, emerged as the front-runner.
Perry painted the senator as too entrenched in Washington politics - something Hutchison acknowledged worked against her in the current environment.
The GOP winner will face Democratic nominee Bill White - the former Houston Mayor announced as the candidate last night - in November.
Perry, already the state's longest-serving governor, was looking for another four-year term. Hutchison argued that Perry had become arrogant in office and that he let cronyism creep into government, permitting lobbyists to take turns serving in his office and punishing appointees who did not side with him.
Hutchison initially said she would step down from the Senate by the end of 2009 and focus full time on her run for governor. But she later changed her mind and said she had to stay in Washington to battle President Barack Obama and the Democrats on health care.
Her continued presence in the nation's capital gave Perry more ammunition to cast her as a congressional insider.
"It definitely hurt, but it was not my doing," Hutchison said last week, discussing her decision to stay in the Senate. "It was the progress of health care reform. The game change for me is when health care kept being put off."