Obama to campaign in Texas, Democrat White doesn’t plan to join president

By Philip Elliott, AP
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Obama to campaign in Texas

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans fundraisers for fellow Democrats in Republican-controlled Texas, but his party’s nominee for governor said Tuesday he would not join the event scheduled in the city that he used to run.

Former Houston Mayor Bill White told The Associated Press that he couldn’t block Obama from supporting his campaign to become the first Democrat to win statewide office in Texas since 1994. But he also suggested that Obama’s visit opens the door for Republican Gov. Rick Perry to continue running against Washington insiders — an unwelcomed distraction in the Democrats’ best chance to win the governorship in years.

“I believe Rick Perry will try to run against President Obama because he knows that he can’t beat me,” White told the AP during an interview in San Antonio. “He will try to say — unfairly — that somehow voting for him will somehow change the administration in Washington.”

White is hardly the first candidate to ditch an Obama event.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, running for an open Senate seat, skipped public Obama appearances. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan flew to Washington to avoid appearing with the president in Missouri. And appearing arm-in-arm with the president cost Florida Gov. Charlie Crist his Republican nomination for a Senate seat, forcing him out of the GOP and onto the ballot as an independent candidate.

While Obama enjoys high personal approval, voters have soured on his policies. Strategists in both parties suggest November’s elections could be a referendum on the Democratic leaders in the House, Senate and White House. Obama won 44 percent of the Texas vote in his 2008 presidential bid against Sen. John McCain and has seen his standing fall since then.

Democrats in Texas were planning a pair of fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee in Austin, a liberal enclave, and another in Houston for Democratic Senate candidates. Tickets to the high-dollar lunch in Austin start at $5,000 each and go up to $30,400 for a couple to have a photograph with the president. A tentative invitation to the event says “some of the proceeds will remain in Texas to help elect Democrats in Texas, including Bill White as our next governor.”

But White, the former three-term Houston mayor, said he is booked that day and won’t be able to join Obama at any of the events.

White also suggested Obama could be little more than a celebrity endorsement.

“I think Texans want to meet someone who is going to serve them,” White said. “When I go out to places like Alpine, San Angelo, parts of this city, the lower valley and El Paso, and they say they haven’t seen a candidate for governor for a long time, or had an opportunity to ask questions and answers — that’s the kind of politics that we need today.”

He then took a dig at Perry, who won the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“I’m not keen on Perry’s politics of star endorsements, like when he has Palin put her seal of approval on it. I don’t need a seal of approval. The only seal of approval I need are the voters,” said White, who raised more campaign cash than Perry during the last three months.

White raised $7.4 million in that span, compared with Perry’s $7.1 million.

Perry, who has never lost a race in his 25 years in state government, was forced to spend a big chunk of his money on a highly competitive spring GOP primary against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and an unexpectedly strong third candidate, Debra Medina. White has more than $9 million campaign cash on hand, compared to Perry’s $5.9 million.

“Under the First Amendment, I can’t prevent anybody from campaigning for me,” White said. “I’m not in the business of recruiting people other than citizens of Texas to shake hands and campaign for me.”

Weber reported from San Antonio.

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