Perry’s exit rearranges political landscape

Photo courtesy of CNN

Until a week ago, Texas’ 2014 election season figured to be a predictably boring walk in the park culminating with a predictably boring headline: “Perry coasts to fourth term.” True enough, some elements of the media were trying to crank up the excitement level by touting Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth as a potential threat to Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s stranglehold on the state’s top elective office, but the Davis drumbeat sounded more like wishful thinking than meaningful political analysis.

Then Perry changed everything. His July 8 announcement that he would not run for re-election laid the groundwork for a stampede of political ambition that could set up contested races not only for governor but for the entire hierarchy of offices potentially affected by a vacancy at the top. It’s been a long time since Texas voters confronted a gubernatorial ballot with no incumbent among the candidates. The year: 1990. The winning candidate: Ann Richards.

For those taking notes, or scouring their memory banks, 1990 was also the last time a Democrat was elected governor of the Lone Star State. With Perry fading into the sunset – or launching another campaign for president – the political landscape in Texas changes dramatically. Perry’s heir apparent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, reportedly commands Perry-like respect among the most conservative members of the Republican Party, but he’s no Perry when it comes to statewide name recognition and proven vote-getting prowess – at least not yet.

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So could a primary challenger such as former party chairman Tom Pauken give Abbott a run for his money? Not likely, but stranger things have happened in Texas politics. Could there be a high-profile Republican who hasn’t even been mentioned as a would-be governor who might suddenly jump into the race now that Perry has bowed out? There’s just no telling what twists and turns might lie ahead. As for the long-shut-out Democrats, all the likely contenders, including Wendy Davis, seemed hopelessly overmatched in a race against Perry. With Perry out of the picture? We’ll say it again. Stranger things have happened…