OPINION

Ramsey: What's in a name? Texas election cycle may shed some light

ROSS RAMSEY

Texas Republicans are going to start the 2022 election cycle with an IQ test, asking voters whether they really know anything about their candidates for governor.

The incumbent, Greg Abbott, is seeking a third four-year term against six opponents in the Republican primary, including one who will appear on the ballot as Rick Perry.

Ramsey

This is not the Rick Perry who served in state government from 1985-2015 as a state representative, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor, and then as the energy secretary on Donald Trump’s cabinet.

This is another one: Ricky Lynn Perry, a computer engineer from Springtown, a town northwest of Fort Worth, in Parker County.

There’s some grumbling that the candidate is tinkering with his name, trying to fool voters.

But name games are pretty common, even without the busy hands of political tricksters. Lots of candidates run under names that don’t match their official records. James Richard Perry is the full name of the former governor with whom Ricky Lynn is likely to be confused. Texas Democrats have a candidate for governor known to his friends, family and most of the voters as Beto, though his full name is Robert Francis O’Rourke. The state has a U.S. senator whose name is Rafael Eduardo Cruz, who is better known as Ted.

Ballots are full of out-of-the-ordinary names. In 2018, one of Abbott’s primary opponents was SECEDE Kilgore. All capital letters and everything. His friends know him as Larry. And he was the choice of 1.3% of the state’s GOP primary voters that year.

Even so, having Rick Perry on the ballot is at least as worrisome as having a Don Huffines or an Allen West there — not to mention Paul Belew, Danny Harrison, Kandy Kaye Horn and Chad Prather. Huffines is a former state senator from Dallas. West is a former chair of the Texas Republican Party and a one-term congressman from Florida. They’ve been the noisiest of Abbott’s challengers, generating attention with everything from billboards (Huffines) to rallies outside the Governor’s Mansion and elsewhere (West).

Abbott is no Taylor Swift, but he’s well known to Republican voters, a regular name on their statewide ballots since the mid-1990s, when he became a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

It would take very bad news — like a winter storm knocking out the electric grid — or a bigger name on the ballot to make him vulnerable in a party primary.

That’s why Rick Perry is going to be a test. Incumbents always get some no votes, even in their own primaries. And well-known challengers are a real threat. In his last race for governor, Perry faced U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and the lesser-known Debra Medina, and managed to hold onto 51.2% of the vote.

This isn’t exactly the same thing. That was the real Kay Bailey Hutchison, not just an unknown with a good political name. And Perry, by that time, had accumulated the cuts and bruises of a longtime officeholder. By that point in his career, some Texas voters were looking for someone new.

Abbott led the Republicans on the ballot in 2018, getting 90.4% in the Republican primary and 55.8% of the vote in the general election. He’s the favorite again in 2022. In an October University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, Abbott led Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 9 percentage points in a hypothetical general election matchup, and 56% of Republican voters said they would vote to give Abbott the nomination.

An incumbent would like to do better than that, and Abbott certainly expects to — even if a famous name was added to the race at the last minute.

He’ll have to take any Rick Perry seriously — even if he won’t do so in a public way. If a candidate named SECEDE Kilgore can get 20,501 votes in a Republican primary, anything can happen.

Ross Ramsey is co-founder and executive editor of the Texas Tribune, where this column originally appeared.