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On the surface, the recent Texas Republican primaries were a race to the right on nearly every issue. But the underlying strength of every successful federal Republican campaign on March 4 was the ability to run an organized campaign.
Texas is so big, so complex, so expensive that for any ambitious Republican, conservatism is important but organization is paramount.
“The Republican political electorate is clearly looking for strong conservatives up and down the ballot, but money does matter at the statewide level because it takes so much time and resources to get your message out to the voters,” Texas-based GOP pollster Chris Perkins said.
Lone Star State open-seat Senate races are once-a-decade occurrences. Senior Sen. John Cornyn is headed for re-election to a third term in the fall, but many in Texas question whether freshman Sen. Ted Cruz is interested in a long-term legislating career.
If a Senate seat does open up, there is George P. Bush and then there is everyone else. Party insiders widely view the Hispanic nephew of George W. Bush as a Republican who can mitigate the impending demographic changes expected to hurt the Texas GOP in the coming years.
Beyond Bush, who is currently running for state land commissioner, state Sen. Dan Patrick, a lieutenant governor candidate, is expected to be a dominating force in Texas politics. He could run for Senate someday, but some operatives envision him as the Republican equivalent of legendary Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.
The top three names mentioned from the House delegation as would-be Republican Senate candidates are Reps. Michael McCaul, Jeb Hensarling and Louie Gohmert. The argument for McCaul is obvious — as the second-richest member of Congress, he can fund a massive statewide campaign. As for Gohmert, he is now a national figure on the far right and could mobilize base voters in a GOP primary. State Sens. Ken Paxton and Glenn Hegar were also mentioned as potential Senate contenders.
Looking past the Senate, there are dozens of Republicans who could one day run for the House. The GOP dominates the 36-member House delegation, and only one of the three dozen districts is competitive — the 23rd.
In that sprawling southwest Texas district, former CIA officer Will Hurd and ex-Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco are vying for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in the fall. Down the road, national Republicans have their eye on San Antonio businesswoman Veronica Edwards as a possible candidate for the seat.
Everywhere else is a primary fight.
The most frequently mentioned rising Republican is state Rep. James White of East Texas. Location and timing may be a problem, though. He’s in the 36th District, where an open-seat race is happening this cycle to replace outgoing Rep. Steve Stockman. The new incumbent will likely be young, so White may have to wait a while for that seat to open up.
Next to White, the most oft-mentioned political talent is state Rep. Van Taylor, who could one day follow Rep. Sam Johnson in representing the 3rd District.
In the 4th District, 90-year-old Rep. Ralph M. Hall is in a primary runoff fight against attorney John Ratcliffe. If Ratcliffe comes up short, his self-funded campaign could do much to build his name identification for a future bid in northeast Texas. But at least one Hall loyalist, Republican strategist Ed Valentine, warned Ratcliffe of the political repercussions of challenging a popular incumbent. National operatives named state Rep. Scott Turner as a possible candidate, should the seat open up next cycle or beyond.
Elsewhere, Fort Worth Republican Konni Burton is impressing operatives with her bid to replace outgoing Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis. Along with state Rep. Craig Goldman and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, she is mentioned as someone who could succeed Rep. Kay Granger one day. Operatives named state Rep. Matt Krause as another potential Granger successor, but Rep. Michael C. Burgess’ 26th District could be a better geographic fit.
Rep. Pete Sessions’ wealthy Dallas-based 32nd District has a deep well of political talent. The most frequently mentioned name was state Rep. Jason Villalba. Tea party activist Katrina Pierson, who lost mightily to Sessions in the March 4 primary, is viewed by some as a future talent. But a number of other Republicans were not impressed with her ability to run a campaign. Veteran Patrick George, the son of a former state legislator, was also mentioned as a Dallas Republican to watch.
Numerous Republicans pointed to state Rep. Charles Perry as a contender to follow in Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s 19th District footsteps, while another state representative, Lyle Larson, was floated as a potential successor to Rep. Lamar Smith in the 21st District. U.S. Marine Justin Yarborough could also run for Smith’s seat.
Two possible contenders for McCaul’s 10th District are Hegar and state House candidate Mike Schofield. Other Republicans floated former McCain presidential campaign staffer Brian Haley. Even though McCaul lives in Austin, at least one Republican operative was dubious that an Austin-based candidate like Haley could win the seat that stretches to the Houston suburbs.
Some tea-party-type Republicans named state House candidate Matt Rinaldi as a possible successor to Rep. Kenny Marchant in the state’s 24th District.
Possible successors to Rep. K. Michael Conaway in the 11th District are Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, daughter of a former state speaker, and attorneys Brooks Landgraf and Jack Ladd Jr. Republicans also said state Rep. J.M. Lozano is one of the party’s brightest stars, but there is no obvious congressional district for him to run in.
Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays. The next Farm Team will focus on Democrats in Texas.