In Texas, the governor may get the fancy mansion, but it's the lieutenant governor who gets the real legislative power. So even though the office isn't up for re-election for another two years, state GOP officeholders used last week's Republican National Convention to confirm their challenges to incumbent David Dewhurst.
Of course, Dewhurst was supposed to clear the way for a successor by filling the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; instead, he was left in political limbo after losing the primary to Club for Growth's favored son, Ted Cruz. Dewhurst's influence on the Texas Senate floor has been waning for several years anyway. However, during the convention he told YNN that he was "undoubtedly" running for re-election in two years' time.
That's bad news for the three major declared candidates so far: Comptroller Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. Combs' office has spent much of the last two years talking up the state's financial record, but she was dinged heavily in 2010 by her office's accidental release of 3.2 million Social Security numbers. Patterson has generally been a steady hand at the General Land Office, especially on veterans' services, and spent much of the last session hanging around the Legislature. However, he is prone to insensitive gaffes: A July press release from his office called the Civil War one of "northern aggression."
So far, Staples has kept the lowest profile of the three; the initial in-fighting has been dominated by Combs and Patterson, and has centered around Formula One. Combs was one of the state's early advocates for bringing the race to Austin, but it soon became a political hot potato as critics questioned the use of the state's major events trust fund to pay for it. Patterson asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion on its legality: Abbott – who is widely thought to be seeking higher office himself in 2014 – issued an ambiguous ruling that effectively punted on giving Patterson extra campaign ammunition.
Dewhurst has already started shoring up his base by saying he will push through school vouchers in the 2013 Lege session. While vouchers are an article of faith among anti-public-school conservatives, this may be a way to fend off another potential challenger: Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, voucher zealot and the presumptive chair of the Senate Public Education Committee next session. If Dewhurst had gone to D.C., the Texas senators would have picked one of their own as an interim lite guv, and as the favorite of the fringe right, Patrick would have been a strong option. But with a crowded field at the ballot box, and Tea Partiers cooling on him after he endorsed Dewhurst over Cruz in the primaries, his path to power now seems unclear.
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