Austin, Texas (CNN) - Rick Perry has been governor of Texas since the waning days of the Clinton administration.
The Republican has worked in the state capital of Austin in some fashion - state legislator, Agriculture Commissioner, Lieutenant Governor - since 1985, so long ago that he was actually a Democrat at the time of his first election.
As an aide to Perry's Democratic opponent in governor's race flippantly put it to CNN: "He's a 25-year incumbent."
So what's a career politician doing in the driver's seat in the late stages of this volatile campaign season, a year when establishment figures are nothing short of toxic?
Before any other major candidate this election cycle, Perry - who is seeking a third full term in office - tapped into grassroots anti-government fervor early and with gusto, famously floating the prospect of secession at a Tea Party rally in April 2009.
The swaggering, well-coiffed governor then cast his titanic Republican primary fight against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison earlier this year as a showdown between Texas values and federal overreach - and easily re-captured the nomination in March.
He moved on to the general election to face former Houston mayor Bill White, a wealthy businessman promising to bring competence and accountability to the governor's mansion.
But Perry never stopped running against Washington.
After picking up the endorsement of the Houston Police Officers Union on Thursday, Perry was asked by a reporter if he believes the Mexican government has been sufficient in its response to the killing of American citizen David Hartley last week at a popular lake along the border.
"No" was his answer, but he quickly blamed Washington for failing to secure the 1,200-mile border between Texas and Mexico.
"We do not need to let our border continue to deteriorate from the standpoint of having drug cartels tell us whether or not we can go in and bring back the body of an American citizen who has been killed," Perry said. "That is irresponsible."
It was a signature Perry moment – taking a regional matter and turning it into one more emblematic of the how President Obama has failed Texas.
Whether the topic is immigration, cap-and-trade, the stimulus package or health care reform, Perry reliably finds a way to weave controversial national issues into otherwise routine campaign appearances.
It's a potent, but not bulletproof, strategy in a state where nearly 60 percent of voters disapprove of Obama's performance in the White House, according to a Blum and Weprin Associates poll last month commissioned by major Texas newspapers.
The governor, though, has struggled to eclipse the 50 percent mark in most head-to-head polls.
Perry led White by a 48-43 margin in a Texas Lyceum poll of likely voters released this week, with Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass drawing five percent.
The Texas newspaper poll pegged Perry's approval rating at 48 percent.
"People talk nationally about an enthusiasm gap," White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said. "Rick Perry has an enthusiasm problem. There is a lot of Perry fatigue out there."
A Perry campaign adviser, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the race, admitted that the governor's long tenure in Austin is a liability, but scoffed at White for launching a flurry of television ads this summer without landing a major blow.
"If the guy had picked one message, one issue, and gone with it, this could have been a very different race," the Perry aide told CNN.
Both White and Glass say Perry's relentless focus on Washington, along with his refusal to appear at debates or meet with newspaper editorial boards, is an excuse to cover up a do-nothing record.
During a visit to a charter school in Houston on Wednesday, the soft-spoken White compared Perry to an irresponsible child trying to steer attention away from difficult problems facing Texas, mainly a broken border, underperforming schools and a possible $21 billion budget shortfall next year.
"One of the things that classroom teachers confront, and that they teach young people to do, is don't always blame somebody else – 'I forgot my book, or so-and-so didn't give me the assignment' – but to accept personal responsibility for those things that you are supposed to be responsible for," White said.
"I have yet to hear Rick Perry in nine and a half years claim any responsibility for the many, many management shortcomings and lack of results that he's brought," he added.
Glass, an attorney who has kept up a rigorous campaign schedule aimed at what she called "the liberty vote," said Perry offers nothing but "empty rhetoric," particularly when facing the border problem.
"Our Constitution makes it a duty a responsibility of the governor to be commander-in-chief of our state military," Glass told CNN at a fundraiser for her bare-bones but scrappy campaign operation.
"The state guard is to be used for the purpose of enforcing state law and repelling invasions among other things, and those are two things that we should be using our guard for along the border."
But even Perry's opponents concede that his strategy of running against Washington has some resonance at a time of national frustration over the sluggish economy and the seeming inability of current political leaders to fix it.
When Obama visited Austin and Dallas for fundraisers in August, for instance, White opted to campaign elsewhere.
And asked this week if the Democratic Party is a popular brand in Texas, White shrugged and dismissed the question. "It's popular in some, it's unpopular among other people," he said.
"This race is not about dividing Texans into red teams and blue teams," he explained. "That's what Rick Perry has done traditionally. I have found that most Texans want someone who can bring people together to get things done."