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Texas Senate Candidates Still in Hold ’Em Pattern

It’s tough to run for Senate when an election date hasn’t even been scheduled. But that is the quandary facing the candidates angling to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who is expected to resign her seat at some point ahead of the 2010 elections in order to concentrate full time on her quest for the governor’s mansion.

But until Hutchison decides when that resignation will happen, her would-be successors remain in a holding pattern.

“Few people are paying attention. There is no race yet; there is no election date. Most of the oxygen in the room is being expended on the Republican gubernatorial primary,— said Kelly Faro, a longtime political adviser to former state Comptroller John Sharp (D), who has declared his candidacy for Hutchison’s still-occupied Senate seat.

If Hutchison were to resign before Sept. 29, state election law requires a special election be held on Nov. 3 of this year. If she steps down any time from Sept. 29 to April 2, a special election would then be held on May 8.

But some race watchers have recently pointed to a section of state election law that allows Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) — who is battling Hutchison in the GOP primary — to call for an emergency special election before the November date if she steps down sooner rather than later.

Perry’s spokeswoman, Allison Castle, said last week that if a Senate vacancy were to occur “the governor would be inclined to call an election soon to ensure Texans were fully represented in D.C.—

But, again, Hutchison has to make the first move.

“There’s so many different options, it’s pointless to even think about them all,— said Craig Murphy, campaign spokesman for former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (R), who has also filed for the Senate race.

A Senate Republican leadership aide said last week that the preference of the national party would be for Hutchison to only resign her seat (which isn’t up until 2012) if she were to win the gubernatorial race.

“When Republicans are facing some expensive Senate elections in November 2010, it’s obviously not ideal to have to spend money in May,— the leadership aide said. However, Hutchison has “made it fairly clear that she intends to leave before the end of the year.—

One Texas GOP operative said last week that conventional wisdom in Republican circles points to a late 2009 resignation, and Texas Democrats seem to be thinking along the same lines.

“We are aggressively laying the groundwork for a [May] special election in terms of both fundraising and voter outreach,— said Katy Bacon, spokeswoman for Houston Mayor Bill White (D), who is also in the race. “As far as we are concerned we have an election date and we are working very hard toward that.—

But Hutchison’s political situation could accelerate that timeframe.

While public polling released earlier this year showed Hutchison with a solid lead over Perry in the primary, the governor has opened up a double digit lead over the Senator in polling released this summer.

“Perry is making a comeback because he’s had the state to himself,— the GOP operative said.

“Let’s see what happens in August,— the operative added, referring to the statewide bus tour Hutchison has planned next month to officially kick off her gubernatorial bid. “If her numbers come back and she realizes it’s more important for her to be on the ground [in Texas], we’ll see— if she decides to step down from her job in Washington sooner.

When Hutchison does step down it will be Perry’s job to appoint an interim Senator until a special election can be held. Perry will certainly appoint a Republican to the job, but who that person will be is a question up for debate.

State Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R) is one candidate in the mix. But Williams also had the lowest cash on hand total as of June 30 among the Republicans who have filed for the Senate race, according to second-quarter Federal Election Commission reports.

Michael Williams reported $168,000 cash on hand while Roger Williams ended June with $728,000 in the bank. Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones (R) had $443,000 on hand while state Sen. Florence Shapiro (R) had just less than $300,000 on hand.

Those totals paled in comparison with the Democratic candidates’ numbers. Sharp reported $2.9 million cash on hand and White had $3.3 million in the bank. Sharp has raised about $500,000 for his campaign and self-funded the rest while White has raked in more than $2.8 million in contributions since announcing.

Corbin Casteel, Michael Williams’ campaign manager, said Democrats have had the edge in fundraising in Texas because Republican donors are waiting to see how the GOP field shakes out.

Republicans are “waiting on the sidelines. … They’re waiting to see who gets the appointment. That’s who they are going to support,— Casteel said. “That’s why you’re seeing the Democrats outraise Republicans so much.—

Murphy, Roger Williams’ spokesman, said he expects the candidates’ fundraising abilities will factor into Perry’s appointment decision, and as such, the former secretary of state’s $520,000 raised in the second quarter (which was tops among Republicans) puts Roger Williams in a good position.

“We felt the latest report was potentially the last report before an appointment would be made so we thought that it was the most important one,— Murphy said.

But the pool of potential Senate appointees extends well beyond the already-announced Republican candidates.

Many Republicans believe that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is in the mix for the appointment. He is well-known and would certainly have the ability to raise money quickly to compete in a spring special election.

Dewhurst spokesman Mike Wintemute said that, for now at least, the lieutenant governor is focused on running for re-election in 2010. However, “if a U.S. Senate seat were to open up, it’s something [Dewhurst] would consider,— Wintemute said.

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