DALLAS - Incumbent Rick Perry beat U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in a bruising primary election on Tuesday to decide the Republican candidate for Texas governor.
I have called Governor Perry congratulating him on his victory, Hutchison said in televised remarks from Dallas, after election results showed Perry with a commanding lead.
The poll results showed Perry, who has been governor since 2000, with more than the 50 percent needed to avoid an April runoff.
He will face former Houston Mayor Bill White in the November general election. White beat Houston businessman Farouk Shami in the Democratic primary.
After trailing Hutchison in initial polls in 2009, Perry surged to a commanding lead by mobilizing his party's most conservative members and harnessing disenchantment with Washington-style politics and President Barack Obama.
I think the message is pretty clear -- conservatism has never been stronger than it is today, Perry told reporters on Tuesday night in Driftwood.
Perry is especially popular with social and religious conservatives, who comprise a key base for the Republican Party nationwide but especially in the red-meat state of Texas.
Perry thrashed Hutchison, suggesting that social conservatism, traditionally about two-thirds of the Republican primary vote in Texas, remains ascendant, said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
But Jillson also noted that the Tea Party in Texas -- part of a nationwide conservative movement that evokes a famous 18th century revolt against British colonial rule -- did not fare as well as some had predicted.
The Tea Party performance in the Texas Republican primary was disappointing, cresting at 15 percent and changing the outcome of no major races, Jillson said. The Republican candidate for governor favored by Tea Party activists, Debra Medina, had around 17 percent of the primary votes cast.
Tea Party activists are hoping to get traction in primaries across the country ahead of the November congressional elections as the movement transforms itself from a boisterous vehicle of protest into a machine that can get out the vote for candidates who back its view of limited government.
In the case of Texas, the staunchly conservative Perry was able to appeal to some of that crowd.
After conceding the race, Hutchison, a U.S. senator since 1993, urged her supporters to unite behind Perry's candidacy.
She had sought to embrace more moderate Republicans and gained the endorsement of prominent party members like former President George H.W. Bush.
Hutchison is the only woman ever to serve as a U.S. senator from Texas. She tried to use Perry's incumbency against him by attempting to paint him as a creature of the state capital Austin, where he has been Texas' longest-serving governor. But Perry's portrayal of her as a Washington insider largely stuck, analysts said.
Perry labored to put as much distance as possible between himself and Washington by turning down some federal economic stimulus dollars and challenging in court the federal government's basis for regulating carbon dioxide emissions.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Houston, Editing by Will Dunham)