Politics & Government

Texas could play a key role in 2016 presidential race

Rand Paul talks to reporters Saturday at the Fort Worth Omni Hotel.
Rand Paul talks to reporters Saturday at the Fort Worth Omni Hotel. Star-Telegram

Get ready, Texans.

The Lone Star State is emerging as a potential battleground for the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination and candidates are already spending time here, like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., did this weekend.

Of course many, including former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, have Texas ties.

Paul, who was raised in Texas, is no exception. He spent the weekend talking to North Texas Republicans, first at Friday’s Reagan Day Dinner in Dallas and then at Saturday’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Fort Worth, getting out his message

He said he hopes to make a decision on whether to get into the race for the White House by March or April.

“We’ve been thinking about it. We’ve been traveling the country, presenting the message, trying to see if it resonates,” Paul said Saturday.

He said he’s trying to determine if he has “a chance of being a force toward victory.”

Political observers say they expect many candidates to make their way through this state.

“Texas is a very important state to nail down,” said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor specializing in presidential studies at the University of Texas in Austin. “There are lots of delegates here and lots of money to be donated from here.

“Everybody who is running for the Republican nomination is going to be interested in competing for support in this state,” he said. “I can’t think of another state that might be more important.”

Now that former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has officially declared he will not be in the race, more attention is focusing on those who haven’t ruled out the possibility.

And that includes several people with Texas ties — not just Perry and Cruz, but also Paul and Jeb Bush, who was born in Midland, grew up in Houston and attended UT, and Carly Fiorina, an Austin-born former Hewlett-Packard CEO.

Also in the mix is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who lost to GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008 and hasn’t ruled out another bid.

Huckabee, the Fort Worth-trained preacher turned politician, studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth a few decades ago. He plans to talk about his new book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, in Dallas this week as part of a National Center for Policy Analysis and Rotary Club of Dallas event.

Huckabee left his job at Fox News and has said he wanted to raise $25 million and gauge interest in his making another run for the White House.

When recently asked if he’s in the 2016 race, Huckabee said only that he could give a hint. “I did not leave my Fox News show every Saturday just so I could [sit around],” he said.

“Texas has always been in the mix of national politics,” Buchanan said. “They’ll definitely be coming down and seeking to win support from Texans.”

‘The money will follow’

Last year, Paul, son of former U.S. Rep. and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, drew an enthusiastic response when he spoke to the Republican Party of Texas state convention in Fort Worth.

Raised in Texas, the Baylor University graduate is known as a libertarian-minded Republican, like his father, who has an ability to gain the attention of younger people and minorities.

Paul made news last week when Texas Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri, who said he has known the Paul family for about 40 years, announced he’s leaving his post to work as a senior adviser for Paul.

Now Paul said he has to see how his message — which includes reducing the nation’s deficit and calling for a balanced budget — is received by voters across the country, including those here in Texas.

“Texas is always big and you don’t have to tell Texans that,” Paul said. “I’m very much aware how big a force Texas is in our nation’s politics.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley