The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 22, 2011

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks at the Republican watch party at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch on Election Night, Nov 2, 2010.  Dewhurst easily beat Democratic challenger Linda Chavez-Thompson.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks at the Republican watch party at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch on Election Night, Nov 2, 2010. Dewhurst easily beat Democratic challenger Linda Chavez-Thompson.

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Does Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in the bag?

It might look that way, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which shows Dewhurst — with 27 percent of the vote — running far ahead of any of the other likely candidates looking to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The next-closest contender, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, scored just 5 percent of the vote.

But with the primary still a year away, Dewhurst — who hasn't yet declared his candidacy — faces stiff competition from none other than Undecided, which nabbed 52 percent of the vote and, pollster Daron Shaw says, indicates the crowded field is still wide open.

"If it's Dewhurst, he's ahead. For everybody else, the good news is that no one has become the clear alternative, and 52 percent of the voters are still undecided," Shaw says. "Not any of these candidates has locked down the kind of support they need to win a Republican primary."

On the Democratic side, Chris Bell, the former U.S. representative and gubernatorial candidate, leads an even-more-uncertain Democratic field with 16 percent support, ahead of former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards' 13 percent and former Comptroller John Sharp's 12 percent. Almost 60 percent said they hadn't decided.

The poll also surveyed Texans' views on the direction of the state and the country. Respondents, 59 percent to 26 percent, said the country is on the wrong track. And 55 percent said they disapprove of President Barack Obama's work as president. But voters split, 41 percent to 41 percent, over the direction of the state. Gov. Rick Perry registered a 40-percent disapproval rating.

As for important state issues, immigration and border security again led the pack. But the budget shortfall, which only 3 percent listed as an issue in the last UT/TT poll, now has more worrying, topping the list of 11 percent of voters.

For the full results and other findings, like how a Tea Party candidate might affect the Senate race, check out Ross Ramsey's full story.

CULLED:

  • A Texas Senate committee today will take up a bill targeting payday lenders, which critics say prey on the vulnerable by charging exorbitant interest rates and fees. One consumer group says the bill, which would put the lenders under the same regulations as banks and credit unions, would cost the state 10,000 jobs, but the bill's author, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, says she's helping a "very vulnerable group of borrowers who feel like they have no other alternative."

"We’re not equipped to hold illegal immigrants." — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, on legislation filed by state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, that takes aim at the federal government by allowing county jails to move illegal immigrants to the office of any U.S. representative or senator

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