Schieffer's Out, Will Endorse White

Democrat Tom Schieffer dropped out of the gubernatorial race Monday, saying he'll endorse Houston Mayor Bill White and hopes other gubernatorial candidates will do the same.

White said he'll announce his decision by December 4. But Schieffer said he decided while the two were meeting meeting that he would get out of the race if White would get in, and spend much of his campaign's last press conference throwing laurels in White's direction.

"Since Friday a week ago, Texans from all backgrounds and all regions have asked me to consider running to be our next Governor of Texas," White said. "Today I agree to consider running for Governor, and shall make a decision by Friday, December 4th."

Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie called a meeting of the gubernatorial candidates — no staff allowed — for this afternoon in Dallas. Speculation in the campaigns is that he's trying to clear the path for White, and perhaps to talk the candidates into other statewide races where no Democrats have declared. They were told in advance only that he wanted to outline what the Democratic Party can do for them, to ask them not to cut each other up too badly in a primary, and to ask them to support the nominee, whomever that turns out to be.

Schieffer was the self-styled establishment candidate in a Democratic primary where no one has really gained traction. Kinky Friedman had more support in the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll earlier this month, but 55 percent of Democratic primary voters said they hadn't yet chosen a candidate. Others in the contest include Hank Gilbert, who ran four years ago for agriculture commissioner, Felix Alvarado, a Fort Worth educator, and Houston billionaire Farouk Shami, who joined the race last week. Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has talked about getting in, but hasn't jumped; the same is true of state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, of El Paso, who endorsed White Monday afternoon.

With the huge undecided numbers, and with Kay Bailey Hutchison tapping the brakes on her own plans for an early resignation, speculation has centered on White. He's in the Senate race, if and when that happens, and has demurred on questions about switching to the race for governor. Schieffer's departure opens a door.

White said on Friday that he's focused on the Senate race, but — if you're parsing — didn't absolutely rule out a switch to the race for governor. And the rumors that he'll jump in quickly revived on Monday morning, as news of Schieffer's plans spread.

Schieffer, a former U.S. Ambassador (to Australia and then Japan) and state representative, got into the race on March 2 — Texas Independence Day and exactly one year before the Democratic primary. He started with the support of some well-respected Texas pols, like Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, former House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, and former Rep./former Ambassador Lyndon Olson of Waco. Others joined, including leaders among current House Democrats, who followed Thompson into the fold.

But he never put together the kind of organizing or fundraising machine that makes an impression in statewide races. At mid-year, Schieffer reported raising $505,842 and borrowing $200,000. The two leading Republican candidates, Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both had the advantage of being in office, but that said, their campaign treasuries dwarfed Schieffer's and made it easy for detractors to say he wasn't catching on. The other Democrats weren't exactly impressive: Friedman raised about $62,000, and Gilbert hadn't been in the race long enough to show numbers. Shami said last week that he'll spend up to $10 million of his own. Why is it important? It costs more than $1.5 million a week to buy the sort of statewide TV advertising that powers a gubernatorial race in Texas. That's a burn rate of more than $6 million a month, before you pay for staff, voter contact, mail, and travel.

White had $4.2 million in his federal account at the end of the third quarter; he could move most of that money to a state race without penalty if he chose to do so. (It appears that about $1 million is beyond reach for a transfer, but White could return that federal campaign money to donors and ask them for contributions to his state account.) He hadn't filed any campaign papers with the state as of mid-afternoon.

Schieffer said money was the big reason he got out of the race. "I actually did quite well politically," he said, referring to the reception he got for his ideas and his appearances. But the finance race sunk him. "I just never could convince enough people that I could win," he said.

Schieffer is a Fort Worth businessman and attorney and was one George W. Bush's partners in the Texas Rangers Baseball Club. Bush later appointed him to those two ambassadorships, and Schieffer has taken flak from Democrats for saying he'd voted for Bush every time Bush was on the ballot — twice for governor, and twice for president.

The news came as little surprise to political analyst Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University. Scheiffer’s close relations with former President Bush, among other things, made him a hard sell to Democrats. “Schieffer declared himself a conservative Democrat, a businessman and a friend of Bush,” Jillson said. “He didn’t realize the Democratic Party he grew up with no longer existed, and never tried to explain where he differed from Bush and what do differently as governor.”

Other candidates reacted cautiously. But the news won't affect Gilbert's plans, a spokesman said.

"The departure of Tom Schieffer and the possible entry of Bill White into the governor’s race doesn’t change anything for Hank’s campaign," said Vince Leibowitz, his campaign manager. "We're going to continue to stay the course, and we welcome all comers into the governor's race. Hank remains the only candidate in the race who has proposed bold common sense policy initiatives, and has actually proven that he has new innovative ideas to move Texas forward into the 21st Century. It's not going to change our base of grassroots support, and I'm sure that the departure of Ambassador Schieffer from the race will likely bring some more people over to our side.  We welcome Mayor White if he wants to get into the race, but it’s not going to change anything for us."

 

Tribune writers Reeve Hamilton, Elise Hu, Emily Ramshaw, Abby Rapoport, and Brian Thevenot all contributed to this report.

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