AUSTIN -- They say everything's big in Texas, but the fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination has been huge.
A nasty brawl between Texas titans: two-term Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in recent weeks became the prohibitive favorite against three-term Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison.
The ads, debates and news releases have been vitriolic for months.
When two popular candidates go head to head, somebody must lose. When they are both savvy political veterans, it's going to be ugly.
Perry surged way ahead of Hutchison by tapping anti-Washington sentiments that government is out of control and blaming her.
He's called for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, greater states' rights and even hinted at secession from the union.
Perry has his own budget problems. His state budget is expected to fall $17 billion short next year and already receives $67 billion in federal aide comprising 40 percent of state spending.
But Hutchison could not tap the anti-Washington mood like Perry. She has proudly been bringing home federal dollars to her state for 16 years.
She admits Perry has painted her as a an insider and it's hurt, particularly in the last 10 days when Perry has turned on the jets in hopes of avoiding a runoff.
Perry versus Hutchison has been highly personal for years. In this battle these two highly successful Republicans have spent millions trashing one another. Aides use the word "hate" on both sides. The Hutchison camp says Perry told her he was not going to run. Then after she announced she would run, he decided to run against her anyway.
A little known third contender, activist Debra Medina, tried to harness voter anger too advocating that the Lone Star state "nullify", or ignore, unpopular federal laws.
If no candidate exceeds 50 percent the top two advance to a final to be held on April 13.
The Real Clear Politics average of the most recent polls shows Perry in the mid 40s with a solid double-digit lead over Hutchison. Medina trails in single digits.
About 20 percent are undecided. Most experts expect Perry will win enough of them to reach 50 percent and win outright.
Hutchison has claimed if Perry falls short of 50, she will come roaring back in the runoff.
Most Republicans feel the more temperate Hutchison would make a better general election opponent than the spirited Perry in the November general election against the likely Democratic nominee.
Former Houston Mayor Bill White built a strong lead in the polls over six other Democratic rivals by focusing on high rates for insurance and utilities, and on high school dropouts in Texas.
But if Perry wins the GOP nomination he'll still have an edge in this very red state. The last Democrat to occupy the governor's mansion in Austin was Anne Richards.
For Hutchison, it's been a bruising campaign. She is up for reelection in the Senate in 2012. She's been eager to leave Washington. Insiders say should she lose the governor's race, she'll decide at the end of this year whether or not she'll stand for reelection or give up her seat at the end of her term.