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If Perry Runs Again, Then What Happens to Abbott?

Greg Abbott is all set to run for governor, but now Rick Perry might be in his way. It feels similar to 2010, when many thought Perry was a lame duck, but he ran again.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 3, 2012, greeting members of the Texas "strike force" in Iowa to support Gov. Rick Perry's presidential bid.

Gov. Rick Perry might run for re-election in 2014, and he could run again for president in 2016.

Isn’t this familiar?

Three years ago, as the legislative session began in January, politically minded Texans talked about whether it would be Perry’s last ride as governor. Lobbyists wondered openly whether they were dealing with a lame duck.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was quietly talking to advisers about a 2010 race for governor, presumably hoping to step into the office after Perry stepped out.

Now it’s Greg Abbott, the state’s attorney general, who is quietly talking about working in the Texas Capitol’s middle office. The conversation among lobbyists is there, still, along with a persistent cautionary note: Remember last time, when Perry turned out not to be a lame duck?

Perry speculation is a full-time preoccupation in Austin. The governor stomped that 2009 lame-duck speculation by saying that he was thinking about — and then that he was planning on — running for another term in 2010.

Hutchison’s fan club was not amused. They pointed to her popularity in various polls, her fund-raising ability, the pile of money she had raised, Perry fatigue, his 2006 re-election with just 39 percent of the vote and his high unfavorable ratings in polls.

Hutchison never had a chance. Perry drowned her with her own Washington credentials, turning the projects she had brought home over the years into pork stolen from Texas taxpayers. Debra Medina, who rode the Tea Party wave into that election, won nearly two of every 10 votes in that primary; Hutchison got three. Perry received the rest, winning 51 percent in a primary he wasn’t even supposed to attend. He then easily won the general election.

Then it started all over again. Days after the election, he published a book (Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington) and promoted it on a national tour. Would he run for president? The same uncertainty about his Texas career path — He wouldn’t run for governor again, right? Right? — came back up.

Perry pushed the budget-cutting, no-new-taxes, anti-federal government argument throughout the 2011 legislative session, denying speculation about a national run. As the session ended, he stuck his boot in the door, acknowledging that he was thinking about it. And then he announced, campaigned, said “Oops,” lost in two states, dropped out and came home.

Abbott has been steadily raising money and working on his path to the governorship. He has done a terrific job in that quiet first stage. He ended 2011 with $12 million in his campaign account — far more than any other officeholder or political action committee in the state. He has been tending grass-roots activists on the right for several years.

He has, with a notable exception, scared away the competition. In a Texas Republican Party that has politely waited for Perry and Hutchison to move off the top of the organization chart, Abbott is the sole statewide officeholder with a clear shot at the Republican nomination for governor. Everybody else who might be interested is either running to replace Hutchison as senator or for lieutenant governor, a job that will be open if David Dewhurst wins the Senate spot.

Now Perry is in the way. He has another legislative session in front of him, and he might be talking about another term — or another shot at the White House — just to keep everyone from writing him off as a lame duck.

That’s what Hutchison thought back in 2009. And last year, many Texans were certain — mainly because Perry told us so — that he wouldn’t be on the presidential ballot. Now he’s back, saying he had fun and would do it again in a second. And he’s saying he’s “absolutely” considering another run for governor because “it’s the best job in the world.”

In 1978, one of the richest men in Texas, Dolph Briscoe, was governor. He wanted another term, as Perry does now. So did John Hill, then the attorney general. That ultimately turned out to be a Republican year, but Abbott might find some comfort in the results of that Democratic primary: Hill, the attorney general, beat Briscoe, the sitting governor.

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State government 2014 elections Governor's Office Rick Perry