AUSTIN, Texas – The campaigns of Gov. Rick Perry (search) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (search), widely expected to be opponents in next year's GOP gubernatorial race, are taking political shots at each other over apparently friendly relationships with liberal Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search).
Last week, Perry's campaign circulated a video that showed the conservative senator speaking kindly of Clinton, and now a 1993 letter has emerged in which Perry called Clinton's health care reform efforts "commendable."
"It's a double standard. It's the ultimate in hypocrisy," said Hutchison campaign manager Terry Sullivan.
Perry is bracing for a potential primary challenge by Hutchison in 2006. Hutchison, first elected to the Senate in 1993, hasn't said yet whether she will run for governor against Perry.
The videotape, made by two men working for Perry's campaign, showed Clinton with Hutchison at a recent event at a museum devoted to women's history in Washington. It played up a brief hug and air kiss between the women and featured Clinton saying she is "delighted that Kay is my partner on so many fronts."
"We're being very aggressive in everything we do," Perry campaign director Luis Saenz said last week. "And you ain't seen nothing yet."
At the time, Hutchison spokesman Chris Paulitz said Perry's supporters were taking "silly political shots."
And on Monday, Hutchison's campaign aides said Perry's letter to Clinton, when she was first lady, showed that he was a hypocrite in making the videotape.
"I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation's health care system are most commendable," Perry said. At the time, some critics were describing the then-first lady's plan of government-sponsored HMOs and health care cooperatives as socialism.
Saenz said there is no comparison between Perry writing a letter on behalf of his constituents in 1993 and Hutchison accepting praise in person from "a rather liberal New York senator."
Perry was state agriculture commissioner at the time, a position he had won in 1990 after switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party. He asked Clinton to take special notice of the health care needs of farmers, ranchers and people in rural areas as she tried to overhaul national health care.
Clinton's efforts at health care reform failed. Perry has since described her plan as "a government-run, one-size-fits-all health system."