Big name, dark horse candidates square off as 2014 battle takes shape


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on July 15, 2013 at 6:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 16 at 10:43 AM

AUSTIN -- It was an announcement many had long anticipated.
"I'm asking you, the people of Texas, to elect me as your next governor," Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) told a crowd of supporters gathered on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in San Antonio.
Six days after Gov. Rick Perry announced he won't be seeking re-election, Abbott sought to differentiate himself from the man he hopes to succeed. 
"My approach in life is really just completely different because my life perspective is different," Abbott said in an interview with KVUE's sister station KENS Sunday. "Obviously I've lived a life with a unique challenge in a wheelchair. That puts me into real contact and connection with the people of this state who face real challenges."
"As you saw onstage, I come from a family that's multiracial," Abbott said in reference to his wife Cecilia, whose parents live in San Antonio. "I've been married into a Hispanic family for three decades now. I can understand a complete different sector of the state, a growing sector of the state, from my own unique perspective. So I'm going to be able to able to address issues from different views while maintaining the same conservative philosophy."
Donors have contributed more than $20 million to Abbott's campaign, giving the state's longest-serving attorney general a major advantage over any other candidate in the 2014 race for governor. Yet Abbott's Republican primary challenger hopes to frame that advantage as a liability. 
"Are they giving it to him because they like him or because they want to influence policy?" asked Tom Pauken, a former state party chair and staff member in the Reagan White House. "I just think there are a lot of us out there who are outsiders that feel like we're not being listened to. That's what I hear as I go around the state, and I'm going to make my decisions based on what I think is right and wrong and not just because somebody's a powerful lobbyist or a big donor."
"I think the problem is that there is no conservative team anymore," Pauken told KVUE. "I was in the Reagan administration, we were able to unite the social and economic conservatives. I was state party chairman. We united the social and economic conservatives. The problem is it's more about loyalty to individual politicians and more about them than it is about getting things done, and more about big money influence. So it's more the top versus the people who feel they're left out."
Democrats may not have a candidate for governor, but they've already launched a campaign tying Abbott to the recent abortion battle, labeling him "bad for women" and "like Perry, but worse." The party also has a new standard bearer in state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), whose filibuster rallied thousands across the state. 
Texas politics Project Director and University of Texas Professor James R. Henson says Perry's exit and Davis' rise could be good for a party that has been unable to be competitive on a statewide level in the last two decades, but it won't alter the basic mechanics of Texas politics.
"This doesn't undo the weaknesses that the Democrats have had going into this election cycle," said Henson. "That is they still have problems with organization, with finance, with candidates."
"Now they have obviously a bright light in the elevation of Wendy Davis and all of the national attention that Senator Davis has gotten in the last few weeks in the wake of her filibuster and the meltdown of the Senate, but one person can't turn this around," explained Henson. "Now there is some potential here for the Democrats perhaps to find an opening that might come out of a very divisive or negative primary on the Republican side."
Davis' campaign reported raising nearly $1 million in the last two weeks of June, putting her fund raising total at more than $1 million. Though Davis has expressed interest in pursuing a higher office, she has yet to indicate whether her plans include a run for governor in the 2014 election cycle.
Meanwhile Abbott seems to be picking up supporters. On Sunday, Abbott spoke of the accident at the age of 26 that left him paralyzed from the waist down and required steel rods inserted into his back, casting the life-changing event as one that inspired him to work harder to overcome life's obstacles.
"Politicians get up and talk about having a spine of steel," Abbott said. "I actually have one, and I will use my steel spine to fight for you and for Texas families every single day!"
Visiting the Texas Capitol on Monday, Dallas resident Patrice Graham told KVUE she watched Abbott deliver that line on a local news report. Though she hadn't heard of him before, she said Abbott's attitude earned her respect.
"I just like the fact that he was saying that he's going to use his spine of steel, being that he has steel in his spine," said Graham. "He took his handicap and made a joke out of it. I like someone with a sense of humor." 
"I just think he has some panache," added one Houston resident who told KVUE she'll be voting for Abbott.
Yet most Texas voters have yet to make up their minds, as the countdown until November 2014 begins.