PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The next Texas governor is expected to be Republican Greg Abbott or Democrat Wendy Davis. One is the GOP favorite who stockpiled more than $20 million for a 2014 run, the other catapulted to national stardom by filibustering new abortion laws in pink running shoes.
There’s also Tom Pauken.
Pauken, a Republican, is the often forgotten third candidate for Texas governor. He most recently helmed the Texas Workforce Commission, has raised less money in seven months than Abbott has proven to snatch up in a matter of weeks and describes his long-shot candidacy as a fight for the soul of the Texas GOP.
“If we don’t change the way we’re doing business on the Republican side, we’re going to wake up with a nasty surprise sooner rather than later,” Pauken said. “It’s a top-down, big-money driven, pay-to-play environment. And that’s not conservatism.”
Pauken, 69, launched his campaign in March. That was before Gov. Rick Perry announced he wasn’t seeking re-election, and preceded Abbott formally starting his bid this summer after years of expectations driven by an ever-growing political bankroll.
Pauken’s entry into the race also came at a time when Davis, the Democratic state senator, was merely a rising legislator — and not the national political celebrity she became for her 11-hour filibuster in June. She has since made fundraising stops on both coasts, and Democrats say she will officially launch her gubernatorial campaign Thursday near Fort Worth.
That leaves Pauken, a former head of the state GOP party who lost a bid for attorney general in 1998, as the underdog in what is the first open gubernatorial race in Texas since 1990.
Underdogs can shake up Texas politics. Three years ago, Ted Cruz was a little-known former state solicitor general who started his U.S. Senate bid badly trailing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. In 2010, a tea party activist Debra Medina captured 19 percent of the vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary against Gov. Rick Perry and then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, giving her an instant credibility.
But Cruz had millions of dollars poured into his race by national conservative heavyweight groups. Medina, meanwhile, was a political outsider who says she got into the race from a “purely ideological persuasion.”
Pauken is out to win and a respected Republican fixture. He’s also at a major financial disadvantage: His most recent state filings show his campaign having less than $200,000 in cash on hand. Pauken says he’s up to $400,000 counting “commitments,” which includes $100,000 that he says he’ll spend from his own pocket.
Medina knows money matters: She wants to run for state comptroller next year, but says she won’t if she can’t raise enough money to be competitive. Medina declined to comment on Pauken’s candidacy, but can relate to the difficulty of merely getting a message out.
“How can the people know who to vote for if all they hear is a marketing campaign put out by one candidate?” Medina said.
“The public at large is not going to hear from Tom Pauken. That’s what money does in these races.”
Abbott has revealed few glimpses into how he would run Texas since launching his campaign in June. Pauken is trying to seize on that with speeches heavy on policy. He says he would work to eliminate the so-called “Robin Hood” system of school financing and revamp the state’s debt-dependent ways of paying for highways.
Pauken said he would strip money from one of Perry’s signature programs — the Texas Emerging Technology Fund that gives taxpayer dollars to private startups — and apply it to border security. He also believed that lawmakers this spring should have dismantled the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the state’s $3 billion fight against the disease that won a second chance in the Legislature this year after being beset by a criminal investigation.
Pauken said his campaign needs at least $2 million to have a chance at an upset.
“I think the average person is tired of big money dominating politics on both sides of the aisle. I don’t think (Abbott winning the nomination) is a guarantee,” Pauken said. “Look, I wouldn’t be in this race if I didn’t see a pathway to victory.”