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Craig James Enters Texas Senate Race

ESPN analyst Craig James is filing paperwork today to run as a Republican for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R-Texas) seat.

“He’s throwing his hat in the ring,” James’ longtime friend Roy Bailey told Roll Call. Bailey is a former Republican state party official.

Bailey said last week that people are “coming out of the woodwork” to encourage James to run.

Although James is fairly late to the party, he has more time than initially thought to put a campaign together. The Texas primary date will likely be pushed back about a month to April 3 because of the Supreme Court’s intervention in the state’s new redistricting map.

ESPN announced on Friday that James was taking leave to consider his bid.

James’ interest in running for public office raised more than a few eyebrows in the Lone Star State. The former star running back is highly polemic to those who pay attention to Texas college football.

While college football is political everywhere, he has had proximity to two of the hottest stories in Texas football history: the Southern Methodist University pay-for-play scandal in the 1980s (of which he has always denied involvement and was never implicated) and his lobbying of the Texas Tech administration in 2009 to fire popular head coach Mike Leach.

Both stories inundated the Texas press.

James has been politically active with conservative causes in the last several years. Earlier this year, he founded a group called Texans for a Better America. The group’s website even posted a Web video six months ago that resembles a campaign biography

James lives north of Dallas and played football for SMU. As a result, he is well-known throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert (R), who is also running, has a strong base in Dallas and has made his own headway in the Dallas football legend front. Last week, he picked up the endorsements of several high-profile former Dallas Cowboys.

James played high school football at Stratford High School in West Houston, but that city is also the native home of former Solicitor General Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who are also in the GOP race.

Meanwhile, Democrats’ top candidate in the race dropped out on Friday.

“After extensive consultation with my family, Maria Elena and I have decided to put family first and I will therefore end my campaign for the 2012 U.S. Senate seat as of today,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez wrote in an email to supporters.

He described “pressing personal challenges,” a recent house fire and “lagging” fundraising as reasons to discontinue his bid.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was initially bullish on putting Texas in play when he announced his candidacy in May.

That sentiment faded by the fall.

Roll Call rates this race as Safe Republican.

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