Democrats Find Great ‘White’ Hope to Challenge Texas Gov. Perry

Former Houston Mayor Bill White speaks to reporters after debating businessman Farouk Shami in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Feb. 8, 2010. (AP)

Former Houston Mayor Bill White speaks to reporters after debating businessman Farouk Shami in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Feb. 8, 2010. (AP)

Riding a wave of anti-Washington sentiment to a crushing victory in Tuesday's Republican gubernatorial primary in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has clearly positioned himself as the favorite to win November's general election in a state that is heavily Republican and has not had a Democratic governor since 1995.

But Democrats believe they've found the great "White" hope to challenge Perry in what promises to be a Texas-size brawl.

Former Houston Mayor Bill White is a well-funded businessman who made a name for himself with his city's response to the Hurricane Katrina evacuation.

Yet some political analysts don't give him much of a chance against Perry.

"Looking at it from the perspective of today, it's an uphill climb," Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, told FoxNews.com.

Henson said White was the best candidate state Democrats have fielded in several election cycles but added a White victory "would be a huge upset."

Republicans have held the governorship since George W. Bush took over in 1995 after defeating Ann Richards. Perry ascended to governor from lieutenant governor in December 2000, when Bush resigned to become president, and has held the office ever since, the longest consecutive-serving governor in Texas history.

Democrats have been looking for an avenue back into statewide power, and many see White as that chance with his money to spend on a big race and his power base in Houston, the state's largest city.

The Democratic Governors Association has already contributed $500,000 to White's campaign, which it believes puts Texas in play for Democrats for the first time in a nearly a generation.

"At at time when the economy is struggling and voters are fed up with politics as usual, Bill White offers something better -- a record of results," Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, chairman of the organization, said in a written statement.

"He's a superb candidate and will fight for every inch to talk to Texas voters directly about how he can lead his state beyond business-as-usual."

But the Republican Governors Association isn't impressed.

"While we will never take anything for granted, let's just say we would be a lot more concerned if Bill White were the Democratic candidate in New York where his run-up-the-debt fiscal policies, protection of illegal immigrants, and staunch support for President Obama's leftist agenda might be a bit more palatable," Nick Ayers, executive director of the organization, said in a written statement.

"It is going to cost the DGA a lot more than a half-million dollars of trial lawyer and big labor union money to give Bill White's record the extreme makeover it is in need of."

White controlled Houston from 2004 to 2010 when the term-limited mayor was succeeded by the city's first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker. Upon his departure, he boasted of his accomplishments, including being elected with 91 percent of the vote in 2005, 86 percent in 2007, and his well regarded response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Although White has flown under the radar as the GOP primary dominated the spotlight, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee has shown he's no pushover by easily defeating six opponents to win the party's nomination. He also didn't waste any time in lobbing attacks against Perry.

On Wednesday, he said Perry is more interested in promoting "partisan rhetoric" and "angry headlines" than in improving the lives of Texans.

White told a news conference in Houston Wednesday that Perry's attacks on Washington during his campaign have been a way to divert attention from his own poor job performance as governor.

But Henson said White's only chance is a marked improvement in the economy.

"Right now, the thing Perry was able to capitalize on was his ability to play the Texas economy on the national economy without too much pushback," he said. "The Texas economy is not great but it's been unambiguously better than the national economy."

Henson added that White has to learn from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who was branded as a creature of Washington by the Perry campaign.

"They cannot let the Perry campaign negatively define them without pushing back,” he said.