Thursday, February 17, 2011

Who will be the next junior senator from Texas?

Since the 2012 presidential campaign will not be competitive in Texas -- almost any Republican will beat President Obama in the Lone Star State -- the most compelling upcoming statewide race will be for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Kay Bailey Hutcheson. Given that some conservatives in the state consider Ms. Hutcheson a RINO, she almost certainly would have had to fight off a challenge from the right if she had chosen to run again, and, though it wouldn't be admitted, that likely factored into her decision to leave office. In any event, while any number of candidates are likely to test the waters, the race is likely to come down to the following four:

David Dewherst, the current Lt. Governor, has to be considered the front runner at the beginning of the race. As Lt. Governor, he has statewide name recognition and the ability to raise an almost limitless amount of money. On the other hand, he is known to be a notoriously poor campaigner and weak stump speaker. In addition, his insider role may prove to be a detriment, given that the state legislature will be making a number of difficult budgetary decisions this year.

Ted Cruz was the youngest solicitor general in Texas history. He is articulate and an outstanding public speaker and, as the son of a Cuban immigrant who was imprisoned by the Batista regime, has a compelling personal story. On the other hand, Austin insiders warn that Mr. Cruz can be ambitious in a way that is offputting even to those inclined to support him. Any person he perceives standing in the way will likely soon have tire tracks on his back.

Tom Leppert, should he decide to run, will boast a successful record as mayor of Dallas and as a businessman. He will have the ability largely to self-fund his campaign. However, opponents will seek to make the RINO label stick to Mr. Leppert, who may, in fact, be too liberal to prevail in a statewide Republican primary.

If Ron Paul decides to try to join his son in the Senate, he will bring his rabid band of followers into the campaign. While he will generate a lot of passion among his constituency, I tend to regard Mr. Paul as a fringe candidate and a spoiler, though an insider with deep connections with the Republican establishment in Austin tells me that he believes that Mr. Paul would have a serious chance of winning.

The winner of the Republican primary will win the Senate seat. My best guess now: Cruz.