No sooner had Republican Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that he would not seek re-election in 2014 than Texas political observers on all sides began wondering if his exit provides the opening for a comeback that state Democrats have long salivated for.
No Democrat has won the governorship of the Lone Star State since Ann Richards in 1990 and no Democrat has won a Senate race since Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. Republicans also hold every statewide office as well as handsome majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
Perry's departure creates the likelihood of some divisive GOP primaries. That, in turn, could mean some major possibilities for the up-and-coming generation of Democratic contenders.
No sooner had Texas’ longest-serving governor said he was calling it quits than all political eyes were on state Attorney General Greg Abbott as the leading contender for the governorship. Only the second Republican ever to be elected attorney general of Texas — the other is present Sen. John Cornyn — Abbott is considered a strong conservative and once litigated the state's case for posting the Ten Commandments publicly.
Crippled since age 26 when a tree fell on him while jogging, Abbott would be the first person openly in a wheelchair to be elected governor in any state. Franklin Roosevelt's use of a wheelchair was little known when he was elected governor of New York in 1928 and Alabama’s George Wallace was already governor when paralyzed by an assassin’s bullet in 1972.
But Abbott is sure to face a primary challenge from former State Republican Chairman Tom Pauken, a conservative activist who had already signaled he was running before Perry's announcement. Other Republicans may get in the race as well.
"The most interesting race in 2013 will be for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination,” Reid Rousselot, Austin-area party activist, told Newsmax. Incumbent David Dewhurst, State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, and State Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples are "all well-known and all running," he said.
Along with creating a heated primary for lieutenant governor, the candidacies of Patterson and Staples mean two other state offices are open and two more hard-fought primaries are likely — although state sources universally agree that the land commissioner nomination is likely to be wrapped up by 36-year-old George P. Bush, grandson and nephew of two presidents.
Texas Republicans began their march toward political success in the 1960s and 1970s in part because Democrats had too many hard-fought nomination battles in which scars never healed. In 1978, when then-Gov. Dolph Briscoe lost a nasty Democratic primary to liberal John Hill, Bill Clements went on to become the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
Now the situation could be reversed and Democrats are in a position to benefit from what looks like Republican internecine warfare on the horizon.
As for candidates, state Sen. Wendy Davis gained swatches of state and national publicity when she filibustered for 13 straight hours against a new provision that would require abortion clinics to meet the Health and Safety Code standards for ambulatory surgical centers.
Her stand led to tweets of encouragement from Hollywood actors and the Obamas, and stints on several national news shows — not to mention talk that she would run for governor, U.S. senator, or state attorney general. Davis has not discouraged this talk, nor has she said what she will do.
The other Democrats with potential "starpower" in 2014 are Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the Castro brothers — San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro, identical 38-year-old twins.
Parker, the second female and first openly gay mayor of Houston, has strong support among the city’s business community.
Julian Castro made quite a splash when he delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention — although he and Joaquin were a bit embarrassed after posing as one another at Democratic fund-raising banquets.
These four — the Castros, Parker, and Davis — have been showcased on National Public Radio as the new generation of Democratic leaders in the state that was home to such figures as Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, John Connally, and Bentsen.
Whether any are able to rise to higher office in 2014 may in large part depend on how much damage Republicans inflict upon themselves in a political landscape that changed suddenly with Rick Perry's announcement.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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