Friday, January 14, 2011

Texas Preparing For Open Seat Brawl

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.


The news has spread rapidly through the political world. Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas' senior Senator, has opted not to run for re-election. Predictably, the news has also sent political observers clamoring to handicap the race. I figured Red Racing Horses may as well join in the fun.
The race is nowhere close to heated the January after a midterm election. Nevertheless, it may be worth our while to look at who will (or will not) run. I will not make any attempt to declare how each primary will turn out, as the field is far too fluid to start to attempt such an effort.

Republican candidates

Michael Williams- One of three Railroad Commissioners and current candidates for Senate, Williams has garnered significant national attention with his bid. He had the tentative support of arch-conservative (and head of the Senate Conservatives Fund) Jim DeMint and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich when it appeared Hutchison would resign and trigger a special election. He has given speeches at CPAC and numerous Tea Party events in the past.

Williams sticks out at party events- he wears bow ties to every speech he makes. In all seriousness, Williams is African American. While that won't make much difference to most primary voters, it does get him some attention in the press and from certain national figures.

Look for Williams to make a strong push for Tea Party support as the 'anti-establishment' candidate. The worst nightmare for Williams? If Patrick, Medina, or Paul jump into the Senate race, this constituency will likely be split open.

Roger Williams-A former Secretary of State, Williams has been campaigning for the seat for some time. He doesn't have a huge amount of name recognition, but he does have the benefit of an early start and a reputation as a strong fundraiser.

Elizabeth Ames Jones- A second Railroad Commissioner and former state legislator, Ames is the final candidate already running for the seat. She has not gathered much attention in her bid, but she does have an early headstart to get crucial name recognition.

Dan Patrick- In 2006 the popular talk radio host elected to run for State Senate, winning both the primary and general elections with 69% of the vote. He thereafter went on to found two separate caucuses in the Texas legislature: The "Independent Conservative Republicans of Texas" and the much more concise Tea Party caucus. His radio bully pulpit gives him significant name recognition and a position from which to fundraise, not to mention significant Tea Party credibility. However, he has to make a choice-gambling on a crowded Senate race means he cannot run for re-election to the Texas Senate in 2012. For his part, Patrick claims "I haven't even thought about it."

Although his Senate campaign site is back online and he claimed to remain in the running back in March, Paul Burka seems to think Williams has his heart still on the Railroad Commission.

David Dewhurst-The Lieutenant Governor of Texas who has been waiting in the wings for a really long time may finally get his chance at a promotion.When Hutchison first announced her plans, Dewhurst remained vague; he claimed he would tell more after the legislative session. The Lieutenant Governor soon changed his tune, announcing, "I fully intend to explore running for the United States Senate."

While I would avoid declaring anybody the frontrunner this early on, Dewhurst would be the closest thing to it in this race. He has won four statewide races in the past, including his most recent for Lieutenant Governor and Land Commissioner. This shows two critical things- he can win and he will have some pretty decent name recognition. Despite having sufficient connections to fundraise, he is also very wealthy himself. This combination of a powerful warchest and strong name recognition could drive many potential candidates out of the field.

Joe Barton- One spokesman for the US Representative recently told Roll Call that he is considering a bid for the seat. Barton gathered national attention in his role as the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce committee during the BP oil spill. However, some coments on that controversy and an internal term limit for Republican committee chairs contributed to his being passed over for the chairmanship. Nevertheless, he did get some conservative credibility with some Tea Partier groups during his bid for the post.

Greg Abbott- There has not yet been much buzz about such a bid, but Abbott would be in a good position to compete for the Republican nomination. He has been fighting a very visible war against the EPA and is one of the Attorneys General fighting for repeal of the current incarnation of health care reform. However, unlike a Medina or Paul, Abbott has not ruffled feathers in the establishment of the party and would be a strong fundraiser. However, Abbott has not yet shown any  interest in such a bid. However, Paul Burka at Texas Monthly seems to think Abbott is a bit more far-sighted with an eye toward Governor in 2014.

Debra Medina- The insurgent gubernatorial candidate whose campaign imploded on Glenn Beck's radio program from a controversial comment on 9/11 truth, Medina was last seen endorsing Straus for Speaker and lobbying for abolition of the state property tax. Her Facebook page mentions Hutchison's retirement and describes her as currently running for "undeclared". However, when asked if she would run for Senate, Medina stated, "I don't see that." However, she is still interested in running for office at some point.

Either way, Medina would be the ultimate anti-establishment candidate. Her gubernatorial campaign managed to pull 17% of the primary vote with a tiny fraction of the money both Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rick Perry put forward. With her name still fresh in the minds of voters, she could be a wildcard in the race.

Ron Paul- The iconoclastic libertarian standard-bearer has not said anything about Hutchison's retirement. However, there had been a 10% chance he would run back when the potential for a special election loomed during the gubernatorial race. Paul is a prolific fundraiser, able to raise millions from his national network of supporters. In addition, he has significant name recognition from his presidential run. Paul's anti-establishment credentials and (often contested) claim to have started the Tea Party could play well in a GOP primary. At the same time, his libertarian positions could run contrary to some of the base, especially on defense, gay marriage, and the drug war.

Paul may also elect for a different path. He could easily win re-election again in the House and retain his new post overseeing the Federal Reserve. In addition, due to a curious quirk in Texas election law Paul can simultaneously run for President and House (but not Senate and House). This may be more tempting- a dual bully pulpit with a subcommittee chairmanship and a presidential campaign.

Tom Leppert-He was a major outsider when he ran for Mayor of Dallas in 2007. Now, Leppert appears poised to run for Hutchison's Senate seat. He has a reputation as a moderate in his nonpartisan office, but he has been active in party fundraising in the past. It will be interesting to see how he frames himself if he does run. He will have the money to do it, having been a successful business executive before his mayoral bid.

Either way, Leppert has a reason to keep mum for the time being- despite a looming election, the Dallas City Charter forces those running for another office to step down  from their current post.

Florence Shaphiro- A state senator last seen pushing for the ban of K2, she had shown some interest in the race back when observers had anticipated a special election. It now appears she will not run.

Democratic candidates
Leticia Van de Putte- A prominent Democratic State Senator, I have not seen anything to indicate she would run for Senate. However, she did speculate on a run for Governor in 2010 for some time (until eventually electing against a run). Her fundraising is not very prodigious, but she does have some popularity on the left that could help in the Democratic primary.

John Sharp- Like David Dewhurst, Sharp is the guy who you could call a prohibitive frontrunner in the Democratic primary. Although he technically ran in a judicial race in 2010, [EDIT: it was pointed out this was actually Jim Sharp] Sharp has been essentially running for Senate continuously since it appeared that Hutchison would resign her seat to run against incumbent Rick Perry in the Republican gubernatorial primary.  The early start paid off; Sharp has built a warchest with his announced campaign (skipping the exploratory stage).  The Texas Democratic Party has had difficulty recruiting candidates in recent years (typically failing to field a full statewide slate), so Sharp's already established campaign could be enough to prevent the entry of other competitors.

His major problem? He is a Democrat running statewide in Texas. Although he was Comptroller throughout the '90s, he lost two successive bids for Lieutenant Governor against Perry and Dewhurst in 1998 and 2002. Unless a really tarnished candidate emerges from the Republican primary, Sharp will have a difficult time pulling out a win in the general election (as would any other Democrat).

Kinky Friedman- The famed humorist has made many bids in Texas under many party labels. His most recent run was for Agriculture Commissioner, where he lost a close Democratic primary to Hank Gilbert. However, before Bill White jumped in the Governor's race he led the polls for the Democratic nomination in that contest. Friedman has a significant amount of crossover appeal to conservatives, despite positions like his opposition to the death penalty, and could be a strong candidate.

However, after his 2006 Independent run much of the Democratic party apparatus is antagonistic towards a Friedman campaign, so he would likely do poorly in fundraising and volunteers from traditional circles. He would also have to make it out of a primary with a record of supporting third party candidates. On the other hand, Friedman would likely gather support from unusual quarters for a Democratic standard-bearer in Texas. Such a bid would be highly unpredictable. Nevertheless, Friedman has never shown interest in a Senate run, generally looking towards state office. It is still questionable if he will run for office again, as he tells a different story in every interview.

Chet Edwards- A quite conservative Democrat, some have cast his name as a potential candidate. He lost his House seat in 2010 to Republican Bill Flores with 37% of the vote. However, he is a proven campaigner, having held onto this Republican seat even after Delay's gerrymander in 2003. The problem? He did lose in 2010, and Sharp has been working to seal up the nomination with early fundraising for some time. Edwards may also elect to run for House again, depending on what comes out of redistricting.

Lloyd Doggett- An  Austin area Congressman, Doggett has not yet indicated any interest in the race. However, Republicans control redistricting this year. Although his seat does not look like  it is threatened by the process, if his seat is significantly changed he could be forced to look at a statewide run.

Bill White- The 2010 gubernatorial candidate may be one of the strongest candidates the Democrats could field, but he has categorically ruled out a bid. This wasn't really unexpected- he held the same position shortly after the election, which he lost with about 42% of the vote.

Ron Kirk- The current US Trade Representative and former Mayor of Dallas before Leppert, he has ruled out a bid for Senate.

Independent / Third Party Candidates

No third party candidates (that have a statewide profile of any sort) have announced  for the seat. However, we can watch certain names. Libertarian Kathie Glass ran a vigorous campaign for Governor in 2010, and Green Deb Shafto also ran; Libertarian Jeff Daiell gave the  Libertarians their strongest performance for Governor a decade ago; Green Kat Swift is prominent in her respective national party, as are Libertarians Pat Dixon, Mary Ruwart, and John Jay Myers in theirs.
Nevertheless, none of these figures have indicated any interest in a run. On the whole there is no third party candidate or Independent with a significant profile who is considering a bid.

Final Thoughts

It is worth emphasizing that the uppermost tier of Texas politics has not had significant opportunities for advancement with Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison at the top for so long. Everybody is eager for a promotion, whether it means running for Senate or for the office of somebody else running for Senate. We saw it almost happen in 2010 when Solicitor General Ted Cruz was waiting on Greg Abbott was waiting on David Dewhurst was waiting on Hutchison to abandon her seat, so expect the same situation to arise again- and this time actually come to fruition.

If you have other candidates you are looking at, feel free to suggest them in the comments. There are definitely other big names in Texas politics that I left off for various reasons, including Joe Straus, Ted Cruz, Todd Staples, Susan Combs, Jeb Hensarling, Chris Bell, Ciro Rodriguez and Pete Sessions. There are even more politicos that have been name-dropped for the Senate. The Texas Tribune has a great graphic up to illustrate many of these candidates' chances for running.

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