By Sean J. Miller -The Hill
Several Republican Senate hopefuls in Texas have declared early in order to gain ground on Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst while his attention is focused on business in Austin.
Dewhurst is widely considered the favorite to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), but the next few months could prove crucial to his candidacy as he plays a key role in managing the Legislature.
“He presides over the Senate every day in great detail,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “He sets the agenda.”
As Dewhurst spends his time focused on state issues, almost a half dozen candidates have launched their Senate campaigns. There’s a risk that Dewhurst, who is the most widely known contender, will lose his edge by the time the session wraps up. But it’s also possible that his role could pay dividends on the campaign trail.
“There’s a lot of free publicity in being the presiding officer of the Texas Senate,” said Jillson.
He noted Texas, like many states, is currently fighting to contain a ballooning deficit.
“If the Legislature is seen as dealing with that [budget crisis] credibly, he’ll get some credit for that. If it collapses, he’ll be in for some criticism,” Jillson said.
While Dewhurst focuses on the upcoming legislative session that runs through the end of May, he’ll be unable to fundraise, Jillson added. That could give the other candidates a chance to gain ground.
It won’t be easy to outraise Dewhurst, who has shown himself to be a strong fundraiser.
His state committee pulled in more than $1.5 million between Oct. 24-Dec. 31. It started 2011 with more than $2.5 million in the bank, according to its Texas Ethics Commission report.
One expert said it would be difficult for Dewhurst, who has yet created a Senate campaign account, to transfer that money directly to a federal race because Texas has no campaign contribution limits.
If he does find himself needing campaign funds, Dewhurst has a personal fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions.
Former Secretary of State Roger Williams also has a vast personal fortune, but he only raised some $90,000 for his Senate bid from Oct. 1-Dec. 31, according to his Federal Election Commission Report. He boasted having more than $813,000 banked at the start of the year.
Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones had close to $310,000 cash on hand and fellow commissioner Michael Williams, who formally announced the launch of his campaign on Jan. 27, has less than $100,000 banked.
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