Candidates note: Voters not just grumpy in Massachusetts

AUSTIN — Brooding discontent, fanned by the nation's economic woes, is emerging as a driving force in the 2010 elections as voters put incumbents and establishment politicians on notice that they will no longer tolerate business as usual.

Republican Scott Brown's election last week to the Massachusetts Senate seat that Democrat Ted Kennedy held for 46 years underscored the rebellious mood gripping voters. The same undercurrents are roiling the political waters in Texas ahead of the state's Republican and Democratic primaries March 2.

Opinion surveys and anecdotal evidence point to a deep distrust of government and growing doubts about the future. In one survey last fall, more than 40 percent of Texans sampled said they were economically worse off than a year ago, compared with 17 percent who said their situation had improved.

Political analysts believe that voter disenchantment among Republicans and conservative independents is fueling the candidacy of Debra Medina, the third contender in the GOP gubernatorial race dominated by Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Medina, a gun-toting conservative with libertarian views, jumped from 4 percent to 12 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll after a debate performance that spotlighted the nurse-businesswoman as an alternative to the two big-name politicians.

"She's definitely the candidate of discontent right now," said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The surly public mood has also been evident in the Tea Party protests and similar movements that began spreading across the state early last year. Voters, many of them politically active for the first time, are increasingly confrontational and outspoken as they register their disdain with the way things are going.

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