Democrats for Governor: White Night

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UPDATED AT 9:25: Looking appropriately cheerful, Bill White just celebrated his huge victory in the Democratic primary for governor with what—for White—constituted a barn-burner of a speech in Houston. White struck a pugnacious tone, previewing the way he’ll attack Gov. Perry—who appears headed toward a victory of his own—over the next eight months.

“We now know your tactics of divide-and-conquer,” he said. “We know about your tactics of distracting voters from the truth.” White recited a litany of Perry’s complaints about Washington, making the case that the governor’s Austin leadership bears a striking resemblance to what he complains about in the federal realm. For one: “They’ll point fingers and talk about the alarming growth of government in Washington so you won’t notice the growth of government in Austin. … They think that you will not notice this.”

White also signaled that he will take on Perry’s claim to represent “true Texas values”: “We are committed to competence,” White said, “and we consider that a Texas value too.”

UPDATED AT 8:25: The Associated Press has called the Democratic governor’s race for Bill White. In early returns, White is winning 76 percent, with Farouk Shami at 12. All that’s left now are the speeches—and fun with math, as we work to calculate how much money Shami spent per vote. Surely nobody’s ever spent so much to win so few.

UPDATED AT 7:45: Very early and partial results from the Secretary of State’s office look mighty discouraging for the Farouk camp. With just 132 of the state’s nearly 8,400 precincts reporting, Bill White has more than 77 percent of the vote and Shami is just barely in double figures. Unless J. Xavier shows up to do his “Farouk” rap in person, it could be a rather drab celebration in Houston’s Westin Galleria—and a pretty swinging time at the Intercontinental, where White’s party is already underway.

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Farouk Shami’s long-shot bid for governor might end up being low-yield when it comes to votes. But it’s been high-yield when it comes to entertainment value—and the icing on that proverbial cake was last night’s release of “Farouk,” a tune concoted by Houston hip-hop artist J. Xavier. As you’ll know when you’ve downloaded it—and you simply must—it’s hard to choose a favorite lyric, but I’m quite partial to: “Farouk, Farouk, Farouk is on fi-ah/Serving the community his number one desi-ah.”

If Bill White ends up fielding a congratulatory call from Shami tonight, the former Houston mayor should thank his vanquished foe very heartily indeed—and not just for the musical entertainment. The hair-care mogul’s campaign has done wonders for White and his prospects of breaking the Democrats’ 16-year victory drought in November.

When Shami first announced his intentions of spending $10 million to try and get himself the nomination (he’s ended up spending even more), you could hear groans and moans from Democratic loyalists across Texas. They’d envisioned White getting a free pass through the gubernatorial primary, hoarding his cash and keeping his powder dry for a fall match-up with a battle-scarred Gov. Rick Perry or Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Now here came Shami to complicate things and possibly create rifts in a party that would need to be unified and orderly going into the fall.

None of the Democrats’ Farouk-related fears have materialized. While Farouk had harsh words for White, labeling him a “failure” both as a businessman and a politician—and a “racist” for pointing out that he grew up in San Antonio—none of them stuck. It’s hard to imagine many Shami voters carrying ill will toward White into the general election campaign.

Having to run a primary campaign has put White in a much stronger position to take on the Republican nominee. Most Texans know him now, thanks partly to the commercials that Shami’s free-spending effort forced White to run—and partly to the “free media” that comes with a competitive campaign. Shami’s presence in the race gave White a chance to hone his debating chops in about as low-pressure a situation as one could get. And judging by the latest fundraising figures, having to spend money on the primary has not done any great damage to White’s campaign kitty: He’s been out-raising both Perry and Hutchison. And according to at least one recent poll, he leads Perry among independents—another good omen heading into the general election.

If he wins tonight, White will have a tough row to hoe in a heavily Republican state and as a good-government candidate in a year of anti-government sentiments. But White will be entering the general election campaign as a far sharper—and better-known—candidate than he would have been if he’d won the nomination in a walkover. The man who called him a “failure” and a “racist” has, strangely enough, done White and Texas Democrats a mighty favor by making this race.