- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thanks in part to a $1.6 million personal loan to his own campaign, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and his $2.6 million war chest have the early fundraising lead in a crowded field of Republicans looking to succeed Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the former construction company executive and one-term mayor leads former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, a Fort Worth-area businessman, who has $1.3 million on hand.

Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, is third with almost $1 million. The former Justice Department lawyer is a favorite among the state’s tea party groups.

The diverse field also includes former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a black conservative with strong tea party support - he has almost $400,000 on hand - and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, another conservative who won a statewide race in 2006 with 54 percent of the vote. She has about $130,000 on hand.

Mr. Leppert, who stepped down after three years as Dallas mayor in February to mount his Senate bid, acknowledged Wednesday that the overwhelming majority of his financial support is coming from North Texas - but said he is reaching out to the rest of the state.

“We know we have a lot of work to do, but I feel very good about where we are right now, especially when you consider that we raised our money in a much shorter time frame - a span of roughly four weeks, when everybody else in the field had an entire quarter,” the 56-year-old father of three told The Washington Times.

The FEC reports cover funds raised by declared candidates for the quarter that ended March 31. Mr. Leppert entered the race in February.

Mr. Leppert said he will not cede the support of tea party activists to other candidates in the race.

“When people get to know me, where I stand on spending, where I stand on fiscal responsibility and social issues, on faith issues, the people of Texas are going to be very comfortable supporting me,” he said.

The former mayor won praise from even political opponents for his three years at the helm of city government in Dallas, but he was on the losing side of votes to raise property taxes in 2007 and 2010.

Mrs. Hutchison set off the scramble among Republicans in the state when she announced in January, after a disastrous bid to unseat Gov. Rick Perry last year, that she would not seek another term in Washington.

The field could get even more crowded if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, once considered the Republican Party establishment’s favored candidate for the race, gets in. Mr. Dewhurst, who currently has his hands full presiding over the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature’s attempts to balance its budget without raising taxes, has said he will announce in June whether he will run in next year’s March primary.

A multimillionaire who, like Mr. Williams and Mr. Leppert, could self-finance a bid that some political observers say could cost up to $20 million to wage, Mr. Dewhurst also is weighing a run for the governorship.

The Democratic Party, which hasn’t won a statewide race in the Republican-dominated state since 1994, is pinning its hopes on coaxing a bid out of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, a Rio Grande Valley native.

The general, who commanded coalition ground forces in the early days of the Iraq War, has been a critic of Republicans since stepping down in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Gen. Sanchez, 57, is being recruited by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“I’ve served my country for many years, and this would be another potential way for me to serve my country,” he told the San Antonio Express-News.

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