CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Swooping into traditionally Democratic territory in South Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry praised tea party activists and urged straight-ticket GOP voting as polls opened statewide.
His Democratic rival, Bill White, also took advantage of the first day of early voting in Texas by holding get-out-the-vote rallies Monday in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.
Both candidates started the day by voting for themselves, then asked voters to do the same.
Before a raucous crowd at a rustic barbecue restaurant in Corpus Christi, Perry showcased his endorsement by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami and asked supporters to back Republican candidates.
"If you've got any questions, just vote straight Republican," Perry said. "Your chances of getting small government, fiscal conservatives into office is pretty good."
White, Houston's former mayor, and his wife, Andrea, voted at a Houston community center, and White later told reporters he did not cast a straight Democratic ticket.
"I usually tend to go through office by office and position by position," he said. "We need to get away from this strident partisanship and the sound-bite politics."
Before Perry voted in Austin with his wife, Anita, the governor made a campaign stop with several Republican candidates for statewide offices, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Perry's South Texas trip was similar to one he took shortly before his 2006 election victory over Democrat Chris Bell. Cameron County gave 64 percent of the vote to President Barack Obama in 2008, but the heavily Hispanic county split between Perry and Bell in the 2006 governor's race, with sizable blocs of voters going for two independent candidates.
Perry predicted he would win the county this year and noted that he had been spending time in the region.
"We don't give up any area of the state. We go compete everywhere," he said.
Shami, a Houston hair care magnate, got only 13 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary in March. He endorsed Perry, saying his conservative credentials made Perry the best pro-business candidate.
White, stressing his own business credentials, called the endorsement "a bit odd."
"Mr. Shami gathered his supporters after the primary and expressed unequivocal support for my candidacy, and was harsh in his criticisms of Mr. Perry during the primary," White said.
Shami said he's known for months that he would support Perry. Shami said he didn't like his dealings with White and the Democratic Party, and he called Perry "a man that keeps his word, a man that is a proud Texan." Shami also joked that Perry had "good hair because he uses Chi," referring to his business.
Recent polls have shown Perry leading White, but in a surprisingly tight race in conservative Texas.
Monday was the first opportunity to cast a ballot. The early voting period ends Oct. 29, and Election Day is Nov. 2.
Like Perry, White is venturing into his opponent's strongholds, with trips planned to conservative East and West Texas this week. But the Democrat, swimming against a tea party-fueled tide of anger, kicked off the early voting period with a focus on turning out his base — with rallies and events in predominantly black and Latino areas.
"Viva White!" yelled state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, at an event that drew more than 200 mostly Latino voters to the Arizona Cafe on San Antonio's west side. As patrons lunched inside on fideo soup, chips and salsa and tortillas, White stressed his support for Hispanic causes in an interview with Spanish language television outside.
"I've always fought for the rights of Latinos in Texas," White said in relatively fluent Spanish. "It's important to have a governor who understands the Latino experience in Texas."
Perry didn't mention White by name on Monday, but did make references to President Barack Obama, to whom Perry has tried to link White. Perry also took aim at the federal government, saying it does a good job with the military but doesn't do so well in delivering the mail and protecting America's borders.
"Mr. President, until you get those things right, don't come down here to Texas and tell us how to run this state," Perry said.
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