AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — For many candidates in the March 4 Republican primary elections, the goal will be to come in a close second.
If the candidate with the most votes gets less than 50 percent of the total, they will face a runoff with the second-place candidate. That gives the silver medalist 12 weeks to gather up the votes of the also-rans and win the primary.
The 2014 election will bring the biggest turnover of state leaders in 14 years, prompted by Gov. Rick Perry's and state Comptroller Susan Combs' retirement. That cleared the way for Republican officeholders to move up the escalator.
Lesser-known candidates certainly decided to jump into the races because of what some pundits call the "Cruz effect." Ted Cruz parlayed hard campaigning and tea party politics into a second-place finish behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. He then raised enough money to compete in the runoff and eventually win.
The Republican primary is especially crowded — and competitive — in the races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and railroad commissioner. Campaign finance reports delivered Jan. 15 reveal that candidates in many races are evenly matched.
Greg Abbott has no significant challenger in the Republican race for governor, and George P. Bush has name recognition and significantly more money in his bid for land commissioner than competitor David Watts. Likewise, Democrat Wendy Davis will easily win her party's nomination for governor, and most of the other Democratic candidates for statewide office have no challenger.
The Republicans' four-way race for lieutenant governor, three-way race for attorney general and four-way race for agriculture commissioner are likely to go to a second round.
Dewhurst is the only incumbent, and with a sizeable personal fortune, will almost certainly get the most votes. But Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Houston Sen. Dan Patrick each have $3.1 million and will work hard to knock each other down and keep Dewhurst below the 50 percent mark. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson only had $564,000 in his campaign account on Dec. 31, but has shown in the past that he knows how to get a lot of votes without spending a lot of money.
Dan Branch, a Dallas-area state representative, is the cash leader in the attorney general's race, but a dearth of independent polls makes it impossible to know if money translates into popularity. The other two candidates are Barry Smitherman, a railroad commissioner, and state Sen. Ken Paxton, who both have a respectable $2 million to spend to make sure there's a runoff.
The Republican primary for agriculture commissioner is ultra-competitive. Eric Opiela, a former attorney for the Republican Party of Texas, has the connections and thanks to $780,705 in loans, is the money leader. Former state Reps. Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt also have cash, loans and name recognition from serving in the Legislature, but underdog J Allen Carnes has endorsements from key farming and ranching groups.
One race that could be decided on March 4 is state comptroller. Only Glenn Hegar and Harvey Hilderbran are putting on credible campaigns.
In the Republican race to replace Smitherman as railroad commissioner, the top two candidates have taken loans to try to win the race outright. Malachi Boyuls raised $386,980 but took out $132,500 in loans to bolster his campaign against former state Rep. Wayne Christian, who only raised $173,294, but took a $1 million loan from David Chadwick, a banker and the mayor in Center. Becky Berger only has $24,348 for her campaign.
Incumbent railroad commissioners usually have no trouble paying off campaign loans, thanks to generous donors in the oil and gas industry, which is regulated by the commission.
No candidate likes to admit they're in second place, but in the next 43 days a lot of them are hoping to get just enough votes to buy them another 84 days of campaigning.
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Chris Tomlinson is the AP's supervisory correspondent in Austin, responsible for state government and political reporting.