FORT WORTH, Texas — Welcome to Texas, where the smiles are as broad as the accents, and where oil wells dot the skyline, their dinosaur heads bobbing delicately as they take sips of the state’s liquid gold.
The rest of the country might be in recession, but business is booming in Texas. In this bustling new suburb of Fort Worth, there are shopping centers at nearly every intersection and houses under construction. There is frenetic activity everywhere. Texas is the exception to America’s grim economic reality, and proud residents are not above patting themselves on the back for it.
Rick Perry is still the enormously popular governor; Texans were torn about his run for the White House.
“We were sort of disappointed that he did not become president,” said a young man working outside a local polling station on primary day. “But we sure are glad that he stayed with us down here in Texas.”
Perry dropped out of the race in January, just ahead of the South Carolina primary, throwing his support to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Despite early promise, Perry’s poor performance in the Republican presidential debates, combined with numerous gaffes and missteps, doomed his bid for the big time. His “brain freeze” moment, in which he could not recite the three departments of government he wanted to abolish, went viral throughout cyberspace, and sank his candidacy almost before it began.
He’s a big man in Texas, though.
“We were hoping he would get farther than he did,” said Amber, a perky young woman who works as a receptionist at a local gym. “But we really liked Newt Gingrich the best.”
Mitt Romney won a convincing victory in Tuesday’s primary in Texas, finally gaining enough delegates to drop the “presumptive” from his status as Republican nominee for president.
But in Texas, he’s more tolerated than revered.
“My mom watches Fox News all day long,” said Amber. “Thank God — she tells me what’s going on; otherwise I’d never know. She is backing Romney, but I don’t know … my husband is really at a crossroads with all of this. He does not see a major difference between Romney and Obama. For him, Romney is just Obama lite.”
Despite liberal pockets in the major cities, Texas is likely to go toward Romney in the general election. But that is more a sign of disaffection with the present government than any major hopes for a new one.
More from Highway 2012: Texas primary — big yawn
A sixtyish man with gray-blonde hair, working out at the gym, refused talk about politics. “I could tell you who I want to win,” he said, in a sugary Texan drawl. “But I won’t. I don’t like to argue. Of course I will vote. It is my duty. But for the past few elections, I have been voting against someone, rather than for anyone. That’s too bad, but that’s where I am.”
He ambled off to the weight machines.
In more rural parts of the state, people are not so reticent.
A little to the northwest, in the Texas panhandle, the tiny town of Clarendon sits amid endless fields. A local college holds pride of place, and the few residents — the population was just over 2,000 in 2011 — are warm and hospitable. A stranger out for a walk along the single road in town is likely to be stopped several times an hour and asked if she needs a ride.
Clarendon’s pride is all out of proportion to its size, however.
A column in the local weekly, The Clarendon Enterprise, proclaims loudly that the “election is about the fate of capitalism,” and weighs stormily in on the issue.
The paper takes the president to task for trying to destroy the American way of life via “wolf PACs” that criticize former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for his record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded, and which made him rich.
Political Action Committees, the so-called “Super PACs” have been pumping tens of millions of dollars into negative campaign ads. Both Romney and Obama have taken advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, handed down in January 2010, which frees PACs from any limitations on contributions, and which has effectively reshaped the American election landscape.
The airwaves are now bombarded with slick, well-produced attack ads, such as the one first shown in mid-May, portraying Romney and Bain Capital as heartless predators who throw people out of work and destroy communities in the name of profit.
Read more: Obama's campaign goes for the jugular Bain
Gingrich, who more than once found himself on the receiving end of negative ads, warned that the fall campaign would be ugly.
“It’s going to be a mess,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. “People are going to be sick of it and it's really unfortunate. It's not the way a great nation should govern itself."
But Fred Gray, the author of the column in the Clarendon Enterprise, is not opposed to the principle of the Super Pacs, just the substance of Obama’s approach.
“President Obama and the Democrats are making a terrible mistake when they attack capitalism,” he writes. “Casting dispersions [sic] upon Mitt Romney’s character and values is casting dispersions upon America’s character and values.”
The column, which seems to be a regular feature, is titled “The quick, the dead, and Fred,” which perhaps takes a bit away from its gravity, not to cast “dispersions” on his character or values.
Fred is not uncritically admiring of his hero, however. One suspects he would like a candidate with an even more conservative bent.
“Mitt, too, has his warts,” admits Fred. “Rather than condemn an important pillar of our economic foundation, Obama would be better served if he questions Mitt’s positions on other social issues.”
But still, Fred leaves no doubt as to where he stands.
“Mitt has earned my vote,” he wrote.