A Monday New York Times story from Houston by Texas-based reporter James McKinley Jr., "Taking Texas Primary Even Further to the Right," focused on Texas gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, whose reputation took a hit when she played coy in a radio interview with Glenn Beck on a question about 9-11. Medina responded with the thought that "the American people have not seen all the evidence there." That's flirting with 9-11 Trutherism: The idea, which has taken hold on the paranoid left, that the government under President George Bush had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks but did nothing to stop them.
While Medina later backtracked in a written statement, she deserves little sympathy for her initial outburst, whether it represents her true beliefs or if she was just making a cynical appeal to the paranoid right. But McKinley stacked the deck against Texas Republicans with his loaded labeling practices, tarring the party's candidates for governor as "far right."
Some days it is hard to be a neophyte far-right candidate in a governor's race, even in Texas, where Republicans vying for the party's nomination try to outdo one another to prove their conservative credentials.
Debra Medina found that out when she appeared on Glenn Beck's radio show last week and fumbled a question about whether she agreed with conspiracy theorists who think the Bush administration was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard," she said. "There's some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all the evidence there." And for immigration issues.
Mr. Beck, an admirer of Gov. Rick Perry, ridiculed her right away, saying, "I think I can write her off the list."
When did Beck become an "admirer" of Perry? Last week on his radio show he called Perry a "progressive," along with Sen. John McCain, and didn't understand why Sarah Palin would stand with him.
McKinley has a habit of throwing around loaded language to describe Texas conservatives. A January 2009 story referred to ousted Texas House Speaker Thomas Craddick as "archconservative."
His Monday story continued:
From the obscurity of rural Wharton County, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, Ms. Medina, a former nurse who owns a medical billing business, has become a wild card in the race for the Republican nomination. She is a factor because the primary usually attracts a low turnout, and historically its outcome is decided by about 600,000 of the most conservative voters in the state.
Recent polls have shown that Ms. Medina's support among likely primary voters is in the double digits, and some surveys have her close to edging out Ms. Hutchison for second place.
There is a growing belief among Republican strategists here that if Ms. Medina can control the damage from Thursday's radio gaffe, she might force a runoff. Her opponents are finding it harder to ignore her. Even her detractors acknowledged that she performed well in two televised debates, mounting fierce attacks on Mr. Perry and staking out positions to his right -- no easy feat, because he is widely considered to be among the nation's most conservative governors.
Using slanted language, McKinley harped on and on about how incredibly right wing some Texas Republicans are, "hard-line" and "divisive" on illegal immigration and lacking "nuance" on abortion.
Social conservatives have praised her firm opposition to abortion, an issue on which Ms. Hutchison takes a nuanced stand. People angry about illegal immigration have rallied to her cry to deploy the Texas National Guard along the border with Mexico. Mr. Perry has adopted a less hard-line approach. He opposes building border walls and efforts to cut illegal immigrants off from public education as too divisive.
Mostly, however, Ms. Medina has been riding a wave of anger among conservatives who feel the federal government is spending too much to bail out banks and jump-start the economy.
Like Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential race, Ms. Medina has touched a nerve in an anxious electorate looking for an alternative to the status quo. She has become the right-wing, anti-establishment candidate, calling for term limits and portraying herself in her advertisements as an ordinary Texas resident.