Texas: Line Growing for Hutchison’s Senate Seat
By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report
December 15, 2008 — Although US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) hasn’t set a date for stepping down from the US Senate to run for governor, Lone Star politicos in both parties are already gearing up to succeed her in the Senate. Three Republicans have already entered the race; state Sen. Florence Shapiro, former Secretary of State Roger Williams and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones have formed exploratory committees. Others are also expected to run.
Florence Shapiro was the first out of the box; she formed an exploratory committee last summer. On the plus side, she has the support of a number of her fellow state senators. Considered a moderate conservative in the Hutchison tradition, Shapiro made a reputation in the legislature for her expertise in school financing, a major state issue in the past few years. As a result, she has a network of supporters in the education community. On the down side, she does not have as much personal money as other candidates, she has never run statewide, and her political heft is primarily limited to her suburban North Dallas bailiwick.
Roger Williams ran the Lone Star GOP’s Victory ’08 program, which took him all over Texas speaking to Republican grassroots activists, raising money and energizing the troops. “This is a huge advantage,” notes Texas Quorum editor Harvey Kronberg. A successful businessman (auto dealerships), Williams is well off, though not as flush as several of the other contenders. He is also a former professional baseball player and is close to President Bush, an asset in Texas if not everywhere else. Williams’ downside is a lack of strong name ID, although he will probably have the funds to rectify that.
Elizabeth Ames Jones has some name ID and significant contacts from serving and getting elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industries. She is only the second woman to serve on the Commission. The post also gives her an excellent platform from which to raise money for a US Senate bid. She comes from a wealthy family, is married and has two grown children. Her political experience includes service in the legislature. Despite her record, however, most voters statewide don’t know much about her.
The list of Republican contenders is likely to grow. One potentially strong vote-getter is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Not only does he have significant name ID from his prior statewide elections as land commissioner and lieutenant governor, he is very wealthy and could finance a strong campaign. He has given no indication what he will do. He could seek re-election to his current job in 2010, a fairly safe ambition; jump into the governor’s race -- unlikely since there are already two powerful Republican figures in that contest, Hutchison and incumbent Gov. Rick Perry; or run for the US Senate.
Other GOPers are also frequently mentioned as candidates for Hutchison’s US Senate seat, even though they have given no indication that they plan to run. These include Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R). As an African American, he would have no racial base in the Republican Primary; however, he might well appeal to GOPers who want to see their party broaden its appeal. US Rep. Kay Granger (R) of Fort Worth and Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) are also potential senate candidates.
On the Democratic side, former state Comptroller John Sharp announced last week that he plans to run for the senate. He generally positions himself as a moderate to conservative Democrat. Sharp is a former Texas Railroad Commissioner and a former state legislator. He has, however, run statewide twice in the past -- for lieutenant governor in 1998 and 2002 -- and lost both times. In addition, Houston Mayor Bill White is expected to announce his Senate candidacy early this week, perhaps Monday. White has a non-partisan image, in part, as Kronberg says, because “he shepherded Houston through two hurricanes.” His pro-life stance on abortion might give him difficulties in the Democratic Primary. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D), who lost (43%) a US Senate bid in 2002, also gets mentioned; however, he is also on the short list for Secretary of Transportation in the Obama Administration.
While both Sharp and White bring some assets to the table, Texas is still a pretty solid Republican state. Recent trends have favored the Democrats, but barring a surprise development, the GOP nominee will certainly be the early favorite. While Hutchison doesn’t come up for re-election until 2012, Texas elects a governor in 2010. Hutchison doesn’t have to resign until after the gubernatorial primary or election, thus assuring that she has a job in the event she loses her bid for governor. If she doesn’t resign until after the 2010 election, there would be no special election. Perry could appoint a senator for a two-year term and the Senate election would be held in 2012. Hutchison has said she will run for governor, but she has also said she has no plans to resign her Senate seat, but might toward the end of 2010. There is discussion of the range of scenarios involving the exact timing of her stepping down, but the various contenders gearing up now believe she will resign in time for a special election in 2010. “She’s really eager to get out of [Washington],” avows one insider.