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Data Exposure a Political Setback for Combs?

A new phone scam has highlighted the possible trouble ahead for Texans who had their personal information exposed — and, as Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports, for Comptroller Susan Combs, whose office mistakenly leaked the data.

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You don't have to search very long to find someone upset about the data snafu that exposed personal information of about 3.5 million Texans. Some think Comptroller Susan Combs, whose office mistakenly leaked the data, should resign. Others have said she should be placed under house arrest until the attorney general finishes his investigation.

Neither is likely, but she is an elected official, so some have begun targeting her next election.

"Well, I don't think she has a political future anymore,” said Jason Stanford, a Democratic political strategist. He said it wouldn't take much imagination to come up with an attack ad to run against Combs in her next race. "Texans are less safe because of Susan Combs — I mean, that's kind of easy,” Stanford said. “Normally, we have to do a little bit more digging than the front page of the newspaper. This is a scandal everyone knows about and there's no upside to it. There's no spin; there's no spinning. You totally screwed up, and it's your fault."

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

But Combs may have time on her side. She's not up for re-election again until 2014. Royal Masset, a former Texas Republican political director, also noted that in an age of real political scandals, such a mishap might not resonate with voters. "There's no doubt this would give somebody an issue that they wouldn't have before,” Masset said. “But like I say, it doesn't rise to the level of criminality that you really expect something to knock somebody out of the office."

Masset added that Combs' overall body of work would still serve her well at the polls. "I think she's got a very good reputation,” Masset said. “I mean, this certainly isn't going to help her. But I don't think people are going to get excited enough about it to throw her out. No one's going to run with the idea of, 'Oh, Susan Combs is giving out our Social Security numbers; let's get rid of her.’"

But the breach could still be hard to put behind her. Any time there's a new mass scam targeting those exposed Texans, a new wave of stories will make headlines across the state, much like the attorney general's phone scam announcement Tuesday. Stanford said voters may not be the ones to make the final decision anyway. "There's a limited number of people who are going to give money to a comptroller's race, and if they're still with her, then she can run and make a go of it,” Stanford said. “If they're not with her, she'll know that before she even sets up the campaign and probably won't run again."

For now, both Stanford and Masset say there's only so much Combs can do about the situation while in the middle of a legislative session: apologize, take responsibility and then focus on making sure the state's budget balances.

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