Democrat and former Houston Mayor Bill White is tied with incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry at  43 percent apiece, according to a new PPP poll. In addition, White benefits from strong approval ratings compared to Perry. From PPP:

Perry is an unusually weak incumbent, while White is an unusually strong challenger. Only 36% of voters in the state like the job Perry is doing while 49% disapprove. Among independents the numbers are particularly bad- just 27% give Perry good marks to 55% who think he’s doing a poor job. White meanwhile is better known and better liked than most challengers running across the country this year. 37% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 25% with an unfavorable one and he posts positive numbers with independents at a 35/24 spread.

If 2010 shapes up to be an anti-Democratic year, it could hurt White, but if the general mood is in fact anti-incumbent/anti-establishment, White could se an advantage compared with the two-and-a-half-term Governor.

I suspect the dynamic at play in the race might be something more traditional, and have less to do with national trends. Voters tend to get tired of chief executives over time and start to want a change. This is especially true during economic downturns, like the one we are currently experiencing. Perry has been in office for ten years, making him the longest serving governor in the state’s history. The voters of Texas might just be ready to try something new.

As a close race for one of the most important offices up this November, expect a fare amount of national focus on this contest.