GOP Delegates Talk About Getting New Blood in 2014

TAMPA, Fla. — Fort Worth delegate Ken Dale is already eager for Gov. Rick Perry to move on. And when the retired pilot learned Wednesday morning that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was also expecting to run for re-election, it was more than he could take.

“Lord no!” he shrieked. “So we’re gonna have a governor for life and a lieutenant governor for life? Some of the politicians need to know when it’s time to retire. We have other talent in the state. I’ve already voted for them enough.”

It is a common sentiment among the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention. Many of the delegates have supported the same state leaders time and time again. But now they are ready for change they can believe in. Or term limits. Or a Tea Party insurgent. Anything but the same old, same old.

If Perry is re-elected in 2014 and serves a fourth full term, a Texan born in 2000 will have gone from diapers to his or her high school caps and gowns with the same governor. Dewhurst, elected in 2002 and also up for re-election in 2014, would be looking at a total of 16 years in the No. 2 spot, where he presides over the Texas Senate.

“I think it’s time for them to move on,” said Dan Pickens, a Dallas delegate and former member of the State Republican Executive Committee. “It’s been too long, and things are stagnant. I’m a very term-limit oriented guy.”

And although Perry said again this week that he “absolutely” would consider running for president again in 2016, Pickens said he hopes that won’t happen.

“Once was enough,’’ he said.

To be sure, all of the Republican incumbents are preferred over any Democratic challengers as far as the GOP rank-and-file are concerned. Both Perry and Dewhurst also have loyal supporters who want them to keep at it despite that feeling of political déjà vu. Republican activist Mary Holmsley, who is in Tampa with her husband, delegate Tom Holmsley, said the longtime state leaders deserve re-election.

“You know there’s an old saying, 'If it isn’t broken don’t fix it,'” she said. “We have a strong state — the envy of 49 other states.” Several other delegates said they’d like to see fresh blood but wouldn’t hesitate to pull the level for Perry and Dewhurst if they run for re-election.

Dewhurst wasn’t expected to show up in Tampa after losing to Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate GOP primary, but he changed his mind and got in some politicking at the sprawling Saddlebrook Resort, where the Texas delegation is staying during the convention. He got a polite reception from the delegates and surprised the media by announcing plans to run again in two years. Perry, who was also given a warm welcome when he greeted delegates in Tampa on Tuesday, is scheduled to address the delegation at the Saddlebrook on Thursday morning.

“He’s gotten a very strong reception among the delegates during his convention. He knows them well,’’ said Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan. “One need only look at the reception he gets on the floor from Texans and grassroots activists around the country to know that he has a lot of support for his conservative record, his retail political abilities and his stature as a leading conservative governor.”

State Party Chairman Steve Munisteri cautioned that it’s too early to predict what candidates will be on the ballot in 2014, much less who will win. A bad 2013 legislative session could spell trouble for incumbents. A good one could calm political waters that seem troubled for them now.

“There’s always a percentage of the electorate that wants change,” Munisteri said. “I think any of the current elected officials who decide to run again, they still have significant advantages being incumbents and I still think they would be strong candidates."

If Perry and Dewhurst had their way, voters wouldn’t be facing the prospect of choosing between old horses and rising stars. Perry was hoping he’d be the one accepting his party’s nomination this week — not Mitt Romney. After dropping out of the presidential race, Perry then put some time and energy into Dewhurst’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. Several former Perry aides also worked to help Dewhurst.

But Cruz — a former solicitor general who has never been elected to public office — tapped into the Republican hunger and enthusiasm for new talent, crushing the better-financed and better-known Dewhurst. His victory gave many activists a taste of fresh blood, and now many want more.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, popular with small government conservatives and sitting on a war chest of almost $15 million, is an oft-mentioned name as a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor. Several delegates even said they would prefer Abbott in a head-to-head with Perry, though the two men are close and that isn’t considered a likely scenario.

With Perry and Dewhurst indicating they are leaning toward re-election runs, Abbott could join a large field of contenders who have signaled an interest in moving up the ladder — including Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Comptroller Susan Combs and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who have all shown interest in the lieutenant governor's race.

For his part, Abbott sidestepped any questions about his political future in a brief chat with reporters Wednesday.

“The only election I am focused on right now is the election that is taking place this November,” Abbott said. “What we all need to be concerned about is not so much about the next election, but instead the next generation.”

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