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A Look at Texas

This is the first of a two-part series on the future of politics in the Lone Star State.

For aspiring Texas Republicans, this cycle is as good as it gets.

The redrawing of the state’s Congressional lines late last year led to a cavalcade of Republican candidates entering races across Texas. [IMGCAP(1)]

Already, GOPers have essentially picked up three districts — the Austin to Houston 10th, the West Texas 11th and the suburban Dallas 24th.

In the 11th, which is based in Midland, accountant Mike Conaway (R) easily won the March 9 primary and will cruise to election in November.

State Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) finds himself in a similar position after taking 73 percent in a four-way Republican primary in the 24th.

Marchant was expected to come to Congress last cycle but Rep. Pete Sessions (R) moved from the 5th district into the new 32nd district, which was where Marchant was planning to run.

Two wealthy Republicans are competing in a runoff in the 10th district with the eventual winner a lock to come to Congress.

In the 1st, 2nd and 17th districts, Republicans are high on their prospects as well. The 19th and 32nd districts will play host to Member-versus-Member contests pitting a Democrat against a Republican.

With so much action on the House level this cycle, much of the speculation about the future of Texas politics centers on Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), who will stand for re-election in 2006.

Hutchison has refused to rule out a primary challenge to Gov. Rick Perry (R), and polling shows that she would enter that contest with a lead.

If Hutchison vacates her seat, several statewide officeholders are seen as likely candidates for Senate.

Leading that list is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who was elected to his current post in 2002.

Dewhurst openly contemplated a bid for the seat of retiring Sen. Phil Gramm (R) last cycle before entering the lieutenant governor’s race.

He has vast personal wealth, spending tens of millions of his own money in 2002.

Others mentioned include state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) and state Sen. Florence Shapiro (R). Shapiro holds a seat based in Collin County — the state’s fastest growing county in the 1990s.

Shapiro is also seen as a possible candidate for Rep. Sam Johnson’s (R) 3rd district when he leaves.

She has held a state Senate seat since 1992 and when then House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) retired in 2002 from his North Texas district, Shapiro was mentioned as a candidate, although she ultimately decided not to run. Prior to her election to the Senate she served as mayor of Plano.

One Republican consultant said that if Shapiro wanted to run for the 3rd district she would be the odds-on favorite but added that her ambitions are likely for a statewide office.

Another Republican mentioned is state Rep. Dan Branch. Branch was elected to a north Dallas-based House seat in 2002. He is a close ally of President Bush, chairing his efforts in Dallas County in the 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns.

Knowledgeable Republicans note that although Johnson is 73, he is not likely to leave Congress for several more terms. Johnson fought tooth and nail during the redistricting process to ensure that he had a safely Republican district to ease his re-elections, according to one Republican strategist.

Just to the north of Johnson’s 3rd district, Rep. Ralph Hall (R) has held the 4th district for the past 24 years and at 81 is the oldest Member of the House.

Hall shocked observers on both sides of the aisle in January when he switched parties just prior to the state’s filing deadline.

He is now almost assuredly set to retire in 2006, and the name on most peoples’ lips to replace him is Brett Hall — one of the Congressman’s sons.

Brett Hall is a Republican state district judge in Rockwall County, winning the post by beating a sitting incumbent in the GOP primary in 2000.

Informed Republicans argue that Hall’s decision to stay another term was to keep the seat available for Brett.

If Ralph Hall had bowed out this time, Rep. Max Sandlin (D) was expected to run in the 4th. If he had run and won, it would have made a Brett Hall candidacy much less likely.

It is no secret in Republican circles that thousands of “Hall for Congress” yard signs could easily be ported over to benefit the Congressman’s son.

But political legacies have had a mixed record of success in Texas.

Last cycle was disastrous for fathers hoping to bequeath seats to their sons.

Scott Armey, a former Denton County judge, lost a stunning Republican runoff to now-Rep. Michael Burgess.

In the new 31st district, 6th district Rep. Joe Barton’s son, Brad Barton, took just 16 percent in a crowded Republican field, missing the runoff by 10 points.

Although most of the attention is focused on Brett Hall, telecommunications and technology executive Steve Clark (R) might also enter an open-seat race in the 4th.

Clark was in the race against Hall this cycle before the party switch but deferred to the Congressman in the end.

He has considerable personal resources, which would make him a viable candidate regardless of the opponent.

The only other Republican seat that is expected to come open in the next few cycles is Rep. Ron Paul’s 14th district that encompasses 15,000 square miles on the east coast of the state.

Former Rep. Greg Laughlin (R) is interested in the seat and would be formidable, according to one Texas Congressional aide with strong ties to the state.

After eight years in office, Laughlin lost a 1996 primary to Paul after switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party months before the contest.

In that race, Laughlin was supported by then Texas Gov. Bush as well as the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Laughlin is currently a lobbyist for Patton Boggs.

Another Republican name mentioned for the 14th district is state Rep. Geanie Morrison.

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