To quote Richard Pryor in the movie Brewster's Millions, Tonight I m here to talk to you about none of the above.
The fact is, one of the above (U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Debra Medina) will be the next Republican nominee for governor.
There also will be a Democratic nominee for governor, but considering that Texas hasn t elected a Democrat to be governor since Ann Richards in 1990, most of the state seems focused on the Republican nomination process.
So there was a very real tightrope for all three candidates to walk at Thursday night's debate, but the potential pitfalls for each were very different.
Perry is ahead in the polls, so all he needed to do was avoid stumbling.
Hutchison needed to take shot after shot at Perry, and moreover, she needed to make those punches count.
Debra Medina came in as the dark horse. She will not be on the stage for the next few debates (a fact about which her supporters have been very vocal.) Debra had nothing to lose. She is well behind in the polls and was the only one on the stage who could out-conservative Perry s GOP credentials.
That being said, I kept waiting on former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay to pop out with his Dancing with the Stars shoes on and do a little two-step across the stage. It would have been appropriate given all the dancing that each candidate already was doing.
PERRY ON JOB CREATION
Things got off to a friendly start with pleasantries exchanged by each candidate and everyone playing nice.
That ended at 7:14 p.m.
Anyone who has ever covered Rick Perry can tell you he has a temper and very little patience for questions from time to time.
When asked about the exact number of jobs Texas created, Perry bristled at first and then, true to form, snapped at the moderator who asked the question, talking down to him rather than answering.
The question had to do with job gains versus losses. Perry asserted that 70 percent of the jobs created in the United States were created in Texas from November 2007 to November 2008.
A quick fact check by the Austin American Statesman calls that claim false. The paper points out the claim is only true if the governor does not count 36 other states.
MEDINA HELPS HUTCHISON
Debra Medina, overshadowed for most of the night by the two heavy hitters, scored well with her pleasant demeanor, her support of the 2nd Amendment and her very pointed questioning of Perry about the economy.
Hutchison, showing she was a crafty politician, used her question to Debra Medina as a chance to take a shot at the governor and then get Medina to attack Perry as well on property taxes.
In round two of the candidate-to-candidate questions, the fun continued.
Perry did a great job staying on message: Texas is going good under Rick Perry .
Medina continued to hammer her philosophy of changing the tax structure of the state; she also called for accountability and transparency, but wasn't clear about how those things could raise revenue.
Hutchison used her questions to attack Perry (again), but she didn't seem to get much traction.
The question all three dodged was the 2011 Legislative session and a looming budget shortfall.
The dirty little secret of the 2009 session is that the current budget is being propped up by federal stimulus dollars that will all disappear in 2011.
In fairness to the candidates, a debate does not provide the time or format to discuss such a massive issue. In fact, I doubt that the 2011 session will even be long enough to solve the problem.
WAS THERE A WINNER?
Who won the debate? It depends on what you liked, and ultimately in just a few weeks, it will be your choice at the ballot box.
But, because this is what they pay me for, I ll grade this thing out:
Gov. Rick Perry (A-) -- The governor did what he had to do. Perry stood on his record and lobbed enough bombs at Hutchison to challenge her credentials as a True Republican. High Point: Slamming Hutchison on federal bailout. Low Point: Getting into a fight with the moderator and ultimately talking down to him after a follow-up question about the governor s claims.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (B-) -- The senator stayed on the offensive all night, hammering Perry with every chance she got. High Point: Getting Debra Medina to help her attack. Low Point: Waiting until the closing remarks to talk about her vision for the state. It was too little, too late.
Debra Medina (B+) -- Starting from zero and with nothing to lose, Medina established herself to many people who up until the debate would have had a hard time picking her out of a crowd. High Point: Showcasing that both of the other candidates are part of the problem with big government. Low Point: Missing the mark on issues like the budget and taxes with ideas that seemed to be all theory and little substance.