Greg Abbott shouldn’t just be handed the keys to the Texas Governor’s Mansion

Posted Monday, Jul. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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It was no surprise when Attorney General Greg Abbott declared his candidacy for governor on Sunday, filling the Republican void left just six days earlier when longtime Gov. Rick Perry said he would not run for another term.

On a sunny plaza in San Antonio, Abbott told his personal story, praised his wife and teenage daughter, recounted his record during more than 10 years as the state’s lawyer — “I’ve fought for the constitutional principle of federalism by suing an overreaching federal government 27 times” — and finally said the words his supporters were expecting to hear.

“When it comes to our freedom and our future I will never — never — stop fighting. That’s why I am asking you — the people of Texas — to elect me as your next governor,” he said. And they just might.

Abbott, 55, had been quite visibly building toward that moment for many months. For many people, Perry’s withdrawal was the final signal.

No surprise, but still a monumental event for the Republican Party and for the state as a whole. With more than $20 million already collected for his campaign spending and with support as Perry’s heir-apparent from the GOP’s state leaders, the odds of Abbott becoming the next governor of Texas look very strong.

As blogger Brad Jackson wrote on RedState.com shortly after the announcement, “Today Attorney General Greg Abbott becomes the 800-pound gorilla in the race to fill Rick Perry’s boots in Austin. As a charismatic, committed and conservative fighter with a battle-tested team behind him, Abbott is likely to clear the GOP field and is the odds-on favorite …”

Yet in Abbott’s campaign strength there is also a weakness for Texas. Fighter that he is, he should also have to fight for the keys to the Governor’s Mansion.

A Democrat, maybe even a strong one, will oppose Abbott in the Nov. 4, 2014, general election. But Democrats haven’t held a statewide office in so long Texans can hardly remember what it’s like.

The last Democratic governor, Ann Richards, handed over the office to George W. Bush on Jan. 17, 1995. Since then, the Republican primary has picked all statewide elected officials.

Abbott’s announced opponent in next year’s primary is Tom Pauken, former state GOP party chairman and more recently former chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, who ran for Congress in 1978 and 1980 but was defeated in close elections both times by Democrat Jim Mattox. He has never held elected office.

Former Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins once wrote that Pauken taught Mattox how to be mean in politics, and Mattox went on to become as mean as they get.

But it will take more than mean to challenge Abbott in the way he needs to be challenged to explain his policy positions and the specifics of what he wants to do as governor. It will take a lot of money and political skill.

The primary filing deadline is Dec. 9. Is there another Republican candidate for governor waiting in the wings?

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