- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2011

A new poll finds there are two tiers among the list of Texas Republicans scrambling to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison: There’s Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Then there’s everybody else.

That category of “everybody else” is likely to grow soon with the announcement Wednesday that Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is stepping down, presumably to kick off his long-expected bid for the Hutchison seat.

Mr. Leppert, 56, a former construction company executive, would be the latest contender in a diverse group of declared and undeclared Republicans, most of whom run well behind Mr. Dewhurst in the early polling.

Mr. Dewhurst leads the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune survey, with 27 percent support among all registered voters.

No one else came close to double-digits: Former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams had 5 percent; fellow Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones had 3 percent; U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul was at 4 percent; former Solicitor General Ted Cruz had 3 percent; and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams had 2 percent.

But 52 percent of voters also said they were still undecided. Republicans are heavily favored to retain the seat, making the nomination particularly valuable.

“The average Texan really isn’t paying attention to this race yet,” said Harvey Tucker, a Texas A&M University political scientist. “And those numbers for Dewhurst are based on little more than statewide name recognition. This race is wide open. What happens if, say, Nolan Ryan decides to run?”

The Hall of Fame pitcher hasn’t formally indicated an interest, but he is among the Republican “wild cards” — a group of speculative or undeclared candidates that includes Mr. Dewhurst, sportscaster and former football star Craig James, and Rep. Ron Paul, a tea party hero.

Mr. Cruz, another tea party favorite and a rising Hispanic star — like Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of a Cuban immigrant — got a lot of attention in Washington this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Roger Williams may have come in last in the poll, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the Fort Worth car dealer. A former campaign manager for Sen. John Cornyn, he knows how to raise the estimated $15 million to $20 million the 2012 winner is expected to need.

Mr. Williams, 61, also said his business experience gives him an advantage.

“Sending more politicians to Washington is like pouring gasoline on the fire,” he told The Washington Times.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate seat from Texas since 1988 — but party faithful are hopeful that a moderate like former state Comptroller John Sharp can steal the race. Other Democrats in the mix include two failed gubernatorial candidates, former Rep. Chris Bell and former Houston Mayor Bill White.

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