But it's not just challengers who can do this. Probably the greatest example of candidate rebranding is Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). Perry has made his primary opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the issue. What's worse than being a longtime chief executive in times of economic distress? Being a longtime Washington incumbent, of course.
In fact, the only real "outsider" in the Texas race is former nurse Debra Medina, who's running an underfunded and uphill battle for the GOP nomination. In one of her TV ads, Medina says, "If you want lies and corruption, then vote for career politicians. If you want someone to fight with you, to defend the U.S. Constitution and the great state of Texas, then vote 'We Texans' -- vote Debra Medina for governor."
More important, let's not confuse a mood with a movement. The mood is very anti-Washington and very anti-status quo. If you are a sitting governor, senator or House member, you already know this. That said, simplifying this as an anti-government backlash misses the point. It's about competence. When voters are hurting they really don't care to hear excuses from those who are in charge. They want results. And if you are someone who can sell that -- whether you are a longtime legislator or a first-time candidate -- you can get the ear of voters.
This isn't to say that voters aren't going to be able to see through many of these attempts at rebranding. It has to be believable and look organic. I'm already envisioning lots of TV ads and events where a candidate's attempt at looking like an "outsider" flops. The prop or symbol has to be organic to the candidate.
“There’s a sense that incumbents are vulnerable – especially this cycle,” said Dave Carney, a longtime GOP strategist. “It ain’t beanbag. It’s a tough sport. It’s not an easy time to be a governor. It’s not an easy time to be in politics.”[SNIP]
For Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, the answer to beating back a competitive primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison this year has come in painting his opponent as an incumbent and creature of the Washington establishment.
Perry’s campaign has gone so far as to launch a website called “Washington Kay,” emblazoned with an image of Hutchison standing alongside the U.S. Capitol.
A Rasmussen Reports survey released Tuesday showed Perry leading Hutchison 44 percent to 29 percent ahead of the March 2 primary.
“Unlike a lot of other states, this governor – because his opponent is a U.S. senator – has been able to saddle his opponent with the baggage of incumbency,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
But unlike Perry, who has already won election twice before, Quinn, Brewer and New York Gov. David Paterson – who faces a potential primary battle against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo - have difficult paths to their parties’ nominations in large part because they are replacements – governors who never won election to their seats in the first place.
“You don’t have your own base for that particular job,” explained Carney, the GOP strategist and a Perry consultant. “There’s no one rallying behind this person. Therefore [primary opponents] can appeal to the primary electorate.”