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Red-hot Republican primary is shaping up (not just for governor's race)

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/politics/3209427 June 3, 2005, 10:05AM Red-hot Republican primary is shaping up By R.G. RATCLIFFE Copyright 2005
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2005
      June 3, 2005, 10:05AM
      Red-hot Republican primary is shaping up
      Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

      AUSTIN - Kicking off what may turn out to be the most
      contentious Republican primary season in Texas
      history, two GOP candidates launched campaigns for
      comptroller and agriculture commissioner Thursday.

      The wild ride on the Republican side hinges on whether
      U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison decides to challenge
      Gov. Rick Perry or retire from office. Perry already
      has announced he will seek re-election, while
      Hutchison is waiting to say what she will do.

      "This will be, if Kay Bailey Hutchison decides to run
      for governor, the most hotly contested,
      across-the-board primary we've ever had in Texas,"
      said former Railroad Commissioner Kent Hance, who was
      in a four-way contest for the GOP gubernatorial
      nomination in 1990.

      The Republicans had hard-fought primaries for governor
      in 1990, railroad commissioner in 1992 and attorney
      general in 1998. But even the multicandidate statewide
      races for other offices rarely generated any more heat
      than a contest for class president.

      Next year's primary, however, holds the potential of
      having substantial Republican candidates taking on
      other Republicans in contested races for U.S. Senate,
      governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and

      And with Democrats having failed to win a single
      statewide office since 1994, the winner of these
      contested primaries has a strong likelihood of winning
      the general election.

      "People see that now, if you're going to win, you've
      got to win the Republican primary," Hance said.

      While the Republicans already are fielding a potential
      cornucopia of candidates, the only Democrats to emerge
      as possible candidates so far are Houston lawyer
      Barbara Radnofsky for U.S. Senate and former U.S. Rep.
      Chris Bell of Houston for governor.

      The biggest question looming is what will happen in
      the governor's race.

      The failure of the recently concluded Legislature to
      pass a property tax cut and school finance reform plan
      has made Perry vulnerable to an attack from Hutchison
      or state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, another
      possible GOP candidate for governor. Perry has
      indicated he wants to call a special session on the

      This week, Hutchison sent 15,000 supporters an e-mail
      saying she will make a decision on whether to run
      later this summer after "the entire legislative
      process is concluded."

      "Like many Texans, I am disappointed that, despite the
      hard work of our legislators, major problems facing
      the state failed to be addressed during the recent
      legislative session," Hutchison said. "It's
      particularly unfortunate that some problems will now
      be left to courts to define and resolve.

      Options open for Strayhorn
      Many Republicans believe Hutchison will run. But if
      she decides to seek re-election, rather than challenge
      Perry or retiring, she mostly freezes the GOP field,
      leaving only Strayhorn to challenge Perry.

      Strayhorn has positioned herself to run for governor,
      lieutenant governor or for re-election, depending on
      movement in the rest of the statewide offices. She
      declined comment Thursday.

      Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs on Thursday
      became the first Republican candidate other than Perry
      to announce for office, saying she is running for
      comptroller no matter what. But Combs said she
      believes Strayhorn does not plan to seek re-election.

      "I believe this will be an open primary, and I'm in
      the race to stay. I'm in the race to win," Combs said.

      Other potential candidates for comptroller include
      Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and former Texas A&M
      University regents Chairman Don Powell, who now heads
      the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

      A spokesman for Powell declined comment. Eckels could
      not be reached for comment.

      State Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, quickly
      announced for agriculture commissioner after Combs
      declared her candidacy for comptroller. For now,
      Staples is unopposed.

      Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst already has endorsed Perry for
      re-election and privately has said he will wait for
      Perry to retire in four years before running for
      governor himself.

      But after a frustrating legislative session, it now is
      widely believed by many lobbyists and Republican
      operatives that Dewhurst will run for Senate if
      Hutchison vacates the office.

      With his vast wealth, Dewhurst would have a decided
      advantage over U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
      Bonilla, who has the support of former U.S. Sen. Phil
      Gramm, has said he will run for the Senate if
      Hutchison moves on.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had been
      considering a possible run for Senate, but he recently
      told a group of Austin lobbyists that he will either
      seek re-election or run for lieutenant governor if
      Dewhurst goes for Senate. Abbott could not be reached
      for comment.

      If the attorney general's office comes open, the
      mostly widely speculated candidates for it are Supreme
      Court Justice Harriet O'Neill and Railroad
      Commissioner Michael Williams.

      Former Gov. Bill Clements recently wrote op-eds in
      Texas newspapers saying a contested primary would give
      Democrats room for a comeback.

      Political pendulum swings
      But Republican fund-raiser Jim Francis of Dallas said
      anyone who believes a contested primary is bad for the
      party is wrong.

      "For 50 years, the (Texas) primary was being fought
      between the Democrats to get the Democratic
      nomination, because it was tantamount to winning the
      election," Francis said.

      "Over the next decade there's going to be a lot more
      contested Republican primaries. That's just a
      political science fact of what's going to happen."

      Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting, however,
      said the recent Legislature's performance will give
      Democrats an opportunity to win statewide office again
      in 2006.

      "Texans are coming to a visceral understanding that
      Republican failed leadership has less to do with their
      politicians and more to do with their own party's
      inability to govern," said Soechting.
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