Abbott seen as heir apparent to governor’s office

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott didn’t announce any plans Monday, but many observers of Texas politics had practically declared him the winner of the 2014 race for governor.

With Gov. Rick Perry now officially in his final term, Abbott can finally take a shot at the job he has long waited to fill. And with an intimidatingly large campaign war chest and the broad support of Republican primary voters, the job is his for the taking, said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones.

“The only thing between Greg Abbott and the governor’s office was Rick Perry,” Jones said. “Now, Greg Abbott has a clear path.”

Abbott, a close friend of Perry’s, didn’t try to steal any of the attention from the outgoing governor Monday, but the ever patient attorney general might have something to say soon about his not so well-disguised political plans.

Abbott is scheduled to speak at an event in San Antonio on Sunday — the anniversary of the day he was partially paralyzed by a falling tree. Abbott’s campaign staff didn’t give any details, but Aaron Peña, a former Republican state representative from Edinburg, said he is scheduled to take a campaign tour of South Texas with Abbott after the event.

“I would hope that the purpose would be to reintroduce General Abbott to the citizens of Texas,” Peña said. He added that he fully expects Abbott to be the next governor of Texas. “These are exciting times. I looked forward to General Abbott stepping up to succeed where the governor left off.”

Abbott, who was born in Wichita Falls, served previously as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and as a state district judge in Harris County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Texas and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.

As the heir apparent to run state government, Abbott has prepared himself well for a run for governor in 2014, Jones said.

“Abbott has done everything right. He has definitely set himself up as someone who is firmly fighting the Obama administration on a variety of fronts,” Jones said.

He’s fought President Barack Obama on efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, block Texas’ 2011 voter identification law and prevent the GOP-approved redistricting maps from going into effect in 2012.

But besides making the right policy moves to please Texas’ Republican primary voters — who essentially have chosen the statewide officeholders for the past several years — Abbott has collected an impressive amount of cash: $18 million as of December.

“For 2014, he’s golden,” Jones said.

But Abbott won’t stop raising money. He has the potential to bring in a total of $50 million by the end of the race, Jones added.

“It’s a signal that the Republican establishment is 100 percent behind Greg Abbott,” Jones said.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said Abbott’s fundraising ability has set him apart from anyone else seeking to be governor.

“He’s probably cleared the field,” said Jillson, who dismissed the chances of the three other Republican candidates: Tom Pauken, former chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission; Miriam Martinez, a one-time media professional in McAllen; and Larry SECEDE Kilgore, who formally changed his middle name.

“There’s no one else in the race,” Jillson said.

Many Democratic voters have been hoping that after her recent filibuster against Texas abortion legislation, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, could ride her national popularity all the way to the Governor’s Mansion. But Jillson doesn’t see Davis as a viable opponent against Abbott.

Since 2002, Democrats have been trounced in statewide elections, losing by 12 to 14 percentage points, Jillson said.

“There’s no reason to believe that’s not the margin today,” he said, adding that Davis probably won’t run.

Democrats won’t want to burn their “best future candidate in a futile race,” he said.

Jones said that the always pragmatic Abbott should try to enjoy this pre-gubernatorial time in his career, when he’s got widespread name recognition and vast popularity among mainstream Republicans and tea party conservatives.

“It’ll change when he’s governor,” Jones said. “You have to be a really successful governor not to alienate someone.”

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