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In Texas, likely Perry successor biding his time

  • Article by: WILL WEISSERT
  • Associated Press
  • July 9, 2013 - 4:30 PM

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appears to be in no hurry to declare his candidacy for governor, even after amassing a huge campaign war chest and a sense of inevitability among conservatives who are confident he'd cruise to election.

Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday he won't seek a fourth full term in office next year while Abbott, who has been the state's top cop since 2002, has made no secret he has long pined for the governor's mansion. He has already raised $18 million-plus in campaign funds, more than three times Perry's haul and enough to keep any other major Republican candidate from challenging him.

Yet Abbott's advisers said Tuesday he won't formally enter the governor's race until at least next week.

That willingness to keep biding his time was on display Monday evening, when Abbott addressed thousands of abortion opponents who gathered at the Texas Capitol and wildly applauded his promises to keep fighting to restrict the procedure in Texas.

Abbott has unveiled a five-day tour beginning Sunday in San Antonio that will take him to much of the state, including Houston, El Paso and McAllen on the border with Mexico, and Wichita Falls, where Abbott was born. There also is a planned stop in the Dallas suburb of Duncanville where he grew up.

Spokesman Matt Hirsch said Abbott "is looking forward to meeting directly with voters. That's all for now."

Meanwhile, Texas' only officially declared gubernatorial candidate went on the attack — complaining Tuesday that Abbott "seems to be the anointed one for the governor's chair."

"It's sort of like divine right. You pick whose going to be the next governor, you move people up the ladder," former Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Pauken said at a news conference.

Pauken, a gubernatorial longshot, hopes to raise $2 million-plus ahead of the GOP primary in March. But he noted that much of Abbott's sizable war chest has come from political action groups representing major law firms around the state, which he claimed wanted favors from Abbott as attorney general and will want more should he become governor.

"I wouldn't be in it if I thought that Greg were an authentic conservative," Pauken said. Hirsch declined to respond.

Political observers say it's no surprise Abbott's happy to wait a little longer — not wanting to make it appear he's pushing aside the powerful and still-popular Perry, who has been governor since George W. Bush left to prepare for the presidency in 2000.

Despite the delay, though, some conservatives say they aren't happy with what appears a clear passing of the political baton.

"I think a lot of people are tired of a political royal class," said Debra Medina, who unsuccessfully challenged Perry in the 2010 Republican primary and now chairs We Texans, a group promoting limited government.

Perry's bowing out means at least six out of Texas' nine elected executive offices will change hands. Voters will replace the governor, attorney general, comptroller and commissioners for land, agriculture and railroads. They'll also get a chance to choose another lieutenant governor, with three top Republicans running to replace David Dewhurst — even though he plans to seek re-election.

Still, Abbott is widely considered a shoo-in because a Democrat hasn't won any statewide office in Texas since 1994.

The likely Democratic front-runner also hasn't announced her candidacy — or even said for sure if she'll run. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth became a national sensation by standing for more than 12 hours as Democrats used a filibuster last month to temporarily block a series of new limits on abortion statewide.

Perry has since called lawmakers back to work to finish passing the restrictions, prompting thousands of activists on both sides of the issue to descend on the state Capitol and hold dueling rallies — including the one Abbott appeared at Monday night.

Davis has been urged to run by Democratic operatives but has refused to comment on her future except to say she's focused on running again for her Senate seat in 2014.

Despite his fundraising advantage, the 55-year-old Abbott remains far from a household name in Texas. He was 26 and out for a jog when an oak tree fell on him, crushing his legs and forcing him to use a wheelchair ever since. Abbott eventually sued the owner of the tree and a tree trimming company that had worked in the area.

He is a champion of efforts to restrict civil litigation in Texas and has delighted tea party activists by ferociously championing gun rights and opposing abortion.

But his biggest claim to fame has been suing the federal government 27 times since President Barack Obama took office, arguing against what he calls federal overreach on environmental regulations, the White House's signature health care reform law, and on the U.S. Justice Department's attempts to block as discriminatory to minorities voting district maps approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Abbott even gleefully describes his job as attorney general thusly: "I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home."

© 2014 Star Tribune