Handicapping the 2012 GOP Senate Primary

It is hard to underestimate what an upheaval Senator Hutchison has created by announcing so early that she won't run for re-election. Texas is a huge state with a long ballot of statewide offices. There's a huge pool of potential candidates all waiting for the logjam to break...and they've been waiting impatiently for several years now. Because of that, I think we are likely to see lots of people explore the race, and quite a few eventually file in a year and officially run. Here's how I break it down.

Self-funders

David Dewhurst -- Conventional wisdom says he is the favorite. He's the lieutenant governor, he has name ID, and he has the personal fortune to self-fund. If he hadn't hesitated in 2002, he'd likely have replaced Phil Gramm in the Senate and John Cornyn would occupy this spot instead. He just ran for re-election in 2010, so he doesn't have to give up his seat to run in 2012.

Roger Williams -- former Perry appointee to Secretary of State. He made his money from the family car dealerships in DFW, and he's been a long-time Republican fundraiser. He's been running for the seat for the last couple years, sending me emails at every major and minor holiday. I find it very strange that a Fort Worth candidate has a website featuring the Houston skyline. I can pick out my former office on it though, which is nice. This quote from a David Catanese Politico story didn't strike me as exactly on-message if he's planning on running as the conservative that his emails say:

Sen. Hutchison's done a fantastic job for Texas. We share a lot of the same supporters, and I think now that people know the direction she's going to take, I think they’ll be getting on the Roger Williams team.

Railroad Commissioners

Michael Williams -- If KBH had resigned her seat, there's little doubt that Michael Williams would have been the movement conservative pick. Williams once even had George W. Bush as his campaign manager back in a West Texas race. Good choice on his part, because Bush later appointed him to the Railroad Commish, where he's served for the last 12 years or so. As the only African-American bow-tie wearing candidate, he stands out in a crowded field. However, Paul Burka reports that "Williams is probably out of the race, since he is seeking to become the single commissioner of the revamped Railroad Commission, if the legislation calling for a single commissioner is passed." I find this a little bit hard to believe, however Williams would be the obvious pick of the three current commissioners if the commission is eliminated to a single commissioner.

Elizabeth Ames Jones -- Jones' seat on the Railroad Commission is up for re-election. Is she really going to give up her seat to run in a campaign where many people don't think she'd make the runoff? Refer back to Michael Williams -- if the other two Railroad Commissioners get eliminated, Jones would have the motivation to run. Unlike the other prospective candidates, she's from San Antonio. Her former Alamo Heights TX House seat is now held by Joe Straus -- she should be able to raise a fair amount of money out of that area.

Other statewide officeholders

Greg Abbott -- He isn't getting talked about as much so far because he had planned on moving up to Lt Guv if KBH resigned. Most of what has been written is left over from the prospective race that would have taken place if KBH resigned and there had been a special election. However, like the other statewides aside from Jones, he was just recently re-elected. He will remain Attorney General even if he runs and loses, and he could easily become the movement conservative choice, especially if Michael Williams and/or Ted Cruz don't run.

Congressmen

Most of these haven't been talked about before, because, like Greg Abbott, most of what has been written is left over from the prospective race that would have taken place if KBH resigned and there had been a special election. Still, while Reps don't have a great track record running for the Senate in Texas, you almost think one or two will be tempted to give it a shot. Here are the ones who seem most likely to me:

Ron Paul -- Will he run for president, his House seat, or the Senate? He's done all of them before, losing the 84 Senate GOP primary to Phil Gramm. Paul likes having a platform to propound his brand of libertarianism, but he may decide to let former NM Guv Gary Johnson carry his torch in the presidential race, and instead run for Senate like his son Rand in Kentucky. He will have no problem raising millions. He will get a significant chunk of the vote if he runs, though he has a definite ceiling. If the field is very multi-way and no one stands out, then he might squeak into a runoff. However he'd be very unlikely to win that runoff. I think he probably won't run, but I think few people are good at predicting what Dr. Paul will do.

Mike McCaul -- Most people think he can self-fund, and as the son-in-law of Clear Channel founder Lowry Mays, fundraising shouldn't be an issue either. Still, he has no name ID statewide. Does he really enter what might be a huge field when -- pending redistricting -- he should have a safe seat and is finally back in the majority? I wouldn't be surprised if he ran, but I think on balance he is more likely not to.

Pete Sessions -- He ran to be NRCC chairman again. You can't do that and run for Senate. I think he might have run if he wasn't head of the NRCC, but I imagine he'll think better of it.

Jeb Hensarling -- Maybe the most likely to run of the House members. I bet he'll at least test the waters. He's well-regarded. But I think Texas is now too large for a House member to win this primary.

State Senators

Florence Shapiro and Dan Patrick. They'd have to give up their seat in the state Senate to make the race. Shapiro comes from the vote-rich DFW suburbs in Plano, while Patrick comes from the vote-rich west Houston suburbs. Both have a certain potential niche -- Shapiro as a woman candidate (depending on if Jones runs) and Dan Patrick from his talk radio station in Houston. My guess is that both are more likely than not to stay in the Senate and hope that statewide seats open up after the Senate seat is decided.

Others

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert -- Big city mayors have not done well historically in Texas. Getting elected mayor of Dallas at the same time Dallas County was turning blue speaks to his political skills. As a former CEO, he had the support of much of the Dallas business elite when he was elected mayor. He and Roger Williams will share a very similar profile: DFW businessmen with very little name ID who should be able to raise significant money.

Ted Cruz -- He has generated lots of buzz from touring the state as a prospective AG candidate. While he didn't get to run when KBH didn't run, he may have put the foundation in place to run for this seat. He's young, and his only experience is as Abbott's deputy as Solicitor General. However, he argued and won a number of difficult Supreme Court cases. If I had to choose, I think he's probably the best speaker of the potential candidates. He raised a million bucks for an AG run even though the seat was never even officially open. As I tweeted earlier today, I think Cruz's ability to win might be the least understood/underrated factor in this race. On the other hand, he might decide not to run. Who knows?

Debra Medina -- yes, she got 18.5% of the recent Perry v KBH primary, and she might have a niche as a libertarian if Ron Paul doesn't run that would give her a guaranteed X percent of the vote...however, her ceiling would also be about X% of the vote. And X is a fraction of 18.5%.

Out of nowhere

I wouldn't be surprised if someone else ran who isn't on this already extremely long list. While I've been writing this blog I can recall rumors of statewide office runs for all sorts of folks from Matt Dowd to Don Evans to Karen Hughes. I'd be very surprised if any of those specific folks ran, but I think we will see some trial balloons -- at the very least -- from prospective candidates who aren't on this list.

Overall:

So how do you handicap that when we're about a year from just the filing deadline? Not really sure you can. The more candidates there are, the more uncertainty, and this is likely to be a large field. Many of these candidates are going to test the waters through fundraising and trial balloons and giving speeches at Lincoln Day dinners, so over the next year the field should thin considerably. Even so, I expect quite a few serious contenders.

Dewhurst is probably the one prospective candidate that doesn't need to worry as much about who else runs. He'll plan to blanket the airwaves and use his frontrunner status. He's quite likely to make a runoff, though there is some danger for him. Lots of people like him, but I'm not sure any particular niche loves him. He had a moderate reputation heading the state Senate early on in his tenure as Lt Guv, but lately he's tacked more back to the right. His chances of taking the seat are probably largest if it's a large field where candidates are too busy attacking each other to attack him so that he emerges unscathed into the runoff. At the same time, as I said before, KBH's early announcement is not helpful to him as it reduces his self-funding advantage and gives the field time to sort itself out.

If you made me pick right now, I'd say that we'll see at least 4-5 serious candidates, and that there will be a runoff. If forced, my guess would be that a runoff happens between Dewhurst v. Greg Abbott / Ted Cruz / Michael Williams (written alphabetically).

Roger Williams' worst nightmare had to be Tom Leppert deciding to run. As far as I can tell, their bases overlap to such an extent that neither can make the runoff. Jones has a niche as being both the only female candidate and the only San Antonian, but I don't think those will get her into a runoff. I'm skeptical that the state senators will run, and that the Congressman can win if they do.

So, will it be Abbott, Cruz or Michael Williams? Very difficult to say. All of them will probably be looking into it. I'd be shocked if none of them ran, and wouldn't be surprised if they all did. As I said, Cruz used to work for Abbott as well, so that might be a factor in who runs. As he's never completed a campaign, Ted Cruz is less of a known quantity, meaning that he probably has both a higher upside and a greater potential to crash and burn than either Michael Williams or Greg Abbott. Williams is the safest bet to run, Abbott is probably the most likely not to run, and Cruz the one most likely to really catch fire if he runs.

UPDATE: The TexasTribune had Craig James and George P. Bush on their list. I didn't think of "P," but I'd be surprised if he ran. As for Craig James, I'd be really surprised if he were able to get traction. How many SMU or Texas Tech fans are going to vote for him?

Posted by Evan @ 01/13/11 11:15 PM

 
 

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