Tea party candidate Debra Medina was thrashed Thursday by her two powerful Republican rivals in the Texas gubernatorial race after suggesting that the United States government may have played a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The businesswoman and grass-roots activist has been surging in recent polls and is even threatening to beat out three-term Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for a second-place finish to Gov. Rick Perry, despite having neither the money nor the staff that both Perry and Hutchison boast.
But Medina’s slip Thursday — telling conservative talk show host Glenn Beck that “good questions have been raised” about the federal government having a hand in the terrorist attacks — has Perry and Hutchison smelling blood in the water and hoping to crush the insurgent candidate.
“Today’s comments were an insult to the thousands of Americans who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 and the military men and women who are overseas protecting our country,” Perry said in a statement. “President Bush worked tirelessly to protect our nation from additional terrorist attacks and anyone who would suggest Sept. 11 is a conspiracy involving the Bush administration should be ashamed.”
In her response to Medina, Hutchison said, “I know exactly who was responsible for the horrific attacks on Sept. 11 — Al Qaeda terrorists who declared war on America.”
“To suggest otherwise is an affront to the men and women who are sacrificing their lives to root out the terrorists in Afghanistan and around the globe,” the Texas senator added. “Ever since that tragic day, I have fought tirelessly to ensure that we hunted down the Islamic extremists who target our nation. No one stood closer to President Bush and Vice President Cheney in their efforts to defeat the terrorist threat to our freedom.”
Medina’s comments have gotten widespread coverage across the state and nationally and left the grass-roots candidate scrambling to explain.
“I was asked a question on the Glenn Beck show today regarding my thoughts on the so-called Sept. 11 truth movement. I have never been involved with the Sept. 11 truth movement, and there is no doubt in my mind that Muslim terrorists flew planes into those buildings on Sept. 11,” Medina said in a statement on her website. “I have not seen any evidence, nor have I ever believed, that our government was involved or directed those individuals in any way. No one can deny that the events on Sept. 11 were a tragedy for all Americans and especially those families who lost loved ones.”
“The question surprised me because it’s not relevant to this race or the issues facing Texans,” Medina added. “This campaign has always been about private property rights and state sovereignty. It is focused on the issues facing Texans. It is not a vehicle for the Sept. 11 truth movement or any other group.”
Medina has only a short time to recover from the slip if she still intends to have a major impact on next month’s primary election.
According to a Public Policy Polling survey out Tuesday, Medina had the support of 24 percent of 423 likely Texas Republican primary voters polled. She trailed Hutchison by only 4 percentage points and was trailing Perry by 15 percentage points.
If none of the three gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 2 primary, the top two finishers will vie for the party’s nomination in an April 13 runoff.
But some Texas political observers think Medina’s chances of an upset have been severely hampered by her statement Thursday.
Mike Hashimoto, a Dallas Morning News columnist who was leaning toward supporting Medina, wrote Thursday afternoon that Medina’s slip has severely damaged her bid.
“Sorry, but some things are deal-breakers,” Hashimoto wrote. “Inability to say, with clarity, that she dismissed ‘9/11 truther’ thought and would not surround herself with anyone who thought that way is enough for me to make it a two-person race again.”