Naked City

2006 election cattle call

It's only fitting that the state agriculture commissioner would sound the first cattle call of the 2006 election season. In announcing her GOP candidacy for state comptroller last week, Susan Combs kicked off a round of musical chairs, speculative or otherwise, for Republican officeholders angling to move up the food chain.

State Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, was the first to answer the call with confirmation that he would run for the ag commish vacancy. The bigger story, though, is still in the form of fodder – whether U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn will challenge Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary next year. Hutchison's decision could affect Strayhorn's course of action, as well as Lt. Gov David Dewhurst, who may try to replace Hutchison if she decides to swap D.C. for a shot at the governor's office.

Of course, Strayhorn could also opt to seek re-election to her comptroller's post – a prospect that could see two of the state's most powerful women duking it out over the same seat. The state party is not exactly a picture of harmony right now, so anything is possible, especially with Strayhorn on the outs with party bosses. Judging from Combs' list of supporters, she appears to be the preferred "it girl" of the GOP's major funding sources. Many among Combs' backers were big bankrollers of the Texans for a Republican Majority – the political action committee that's under criminal investigation for its use of corporate money in the 2002 legislative campaigns. In a related civil case, a district court judge recently ruled that the group's treasurer, Bill Ceverha, broke campaign finance laws in connection with the corporate money scandal. Ceverha is listed among Combs' most prominent supporters.

As for the Democrats (remember them?), John Sharp – the former comptroller and unsuccessful lite gov candidate – could seek the Dem nomination for governor, depending on how things shake out later this summer. Given the Lege's failings on school finance and property tax relief, party strategists have targeted at least 15 GOP incumbents in the Texas House. Two Austin Dems – Andy Brown and Hugh Brady – will seek the party's nomination to challenge District 48 Rep. Todd Baxter.

Democrats also see glimmers of hope in Congress, thanks to the radioactive nature of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. San Antonio's John Courage is expected to make another attempt at unseating U.S. Republican Rep. Lamar Smith in CD 21, while Killeen attorney Mary Beth Harrell hopes to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. John Carter in CD 31. Both Smith and Carter are DeLay allies. And finally, Houston attorney Barbara Ann Radnofsky has already announced her Democratic candidacy for Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Susan Combs, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Kay Bailey Hutchison, John Sharp, Bill Ceverha, Andy Brown, Todd Baxter, Hugh Brady, Tom DeLay, Barbara Radnovsky, Mary Beth Harrell, Lamar Smith, John Carter, John Courage

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