DALLAS – They're getting down and dirty early in the Texas governor's race with candidates talking more about each other than the issues.
And the campaign is expected to only get uglier.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who served for 17 years as a state lawmaker and lieutenant governor, was appointed to the job when George W. Bush resigned to become president. Since then, Perry has governed in the shadow of Bush with the unflattering nickname "Bush light." His critics suggest Perry hasn't done anything to fill his predecessor's boots.
His opponent's campaign ad even tells voters, "We didn't elect him. We don't have to keep him."
"He is a fairly attractive candidate but what he lacks is the sizzle that George W. Bush, his immediate predecessor, brought to the table," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
His opponent, Tony Sanchez, doesn't have a political record to run on but has made a name for himself garnering a $600 million personal fortune. He's willing to spend a tenth of that -- $60 million -- to get elected governor.
Sanchez fired the first shot in the campaign war with ads suggesting Perry is in the hip pocket of big business, in particular public utilities.
"Do you think your electric bills are too high? Thanks to Rick Perry's hand-picked [Public Utilities Commission] chairman, we have been overcharged by millions," a Sanchez ad says.
Perry responded with an ad that slammed Sanchez about questionable dealings at a bank owned by the Sanchez family. Allegations have flown that in the early 1980s, drug lords used the bank to stash $25 million. As federal courts investigated, money was transferred out of the country.
"A federal judge confirmed Sanchez' bank wired millions in drug money to Manuel Noriega's Panama," a Perry ad says, linking Sanchez to the former dictator who is currently imprisoned in Miami for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Sanchez said that is the bottom line, and called up the federal judge cited in the Perry ad to say the ad was false.
Traditionally, judges don't get involved in elections, but Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth said his court order was taken out of context and used for political purposes by the governor.
"He does not have boundaries anymore, he has no limits, he'll say anything, do anything. Whether it's true or not true, even close to true, it doesn't matter," Sanchez said.
Some political observers say Perry's attack ads could backfire.
"I think that anytime you use an ad like this is if you don't get the other guy, you blow yourself up," said political analyst Jonathan Smaby.
But Jillson points out that negative campaigning is effective because voters remember the charges, not the refutation of them.
"This charge is about an incident that took place in 1984, it is old business as far as the courts are concerned but it is red meat as far as politics is concerned and so that is why Perry is going to talk about it," he said. "This is not a court of law. You don't have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. You have to raise doubt and that is what Rick Perry has done about Tony Sanchez."
Smaby said the reason the campaigns have gone so negative so early can be pinned on the fact that neither candidate is overly exciting.
"It is already negative, neither candidate excites the voters very much. If you look at the polls there are still a lot of undecided voters," Smaby said.
Jillson also suggested that Perry is running scared because he sees the gap closing between himself and his challenger. Sanchez was running 25-28 points behind just four or five months ago, but has closed that gap by about 10 points and is spending millions in advertising.
Still, Jillson added, in a Republican state where Perry hasn't made any missteps, "he should be able to squeeze out a win by about 10 points in this upcoming race."
Fox News' Mike Tobin contributed to this report.