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Candidates Race to Prove Heft in Money Primary

Candidates are racing to raise money before an end-of-the-month deadline, the better to prove the strength of their campaigns for 2014 in reports that come out July 15.

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Unless something goes haywire, the 2014 Texas primaries will be held in March. But the finance primaries started this week, with hopeful politicians working the phones to raise money before the end of the month.

The objective is to show off a big sack of money in a required July campaign finance report. The deadline for raising that money is June 30, and the reporting date is July 15.

Show a lot of money and you might scare others away. That’s the apparent strategy of candidates like Attorney General Greg Abbott, who already blew everyone’s mind with an $18 million balance at the end of 2012, and George P. Bush, a neophyte with a famous name who has been raising money all over Texas and other states.

Candidates who already hold state office have had to sit on the sidelines; state law prevents them from raising money during a legislative session — the better to avoid the appearance of direct bribery while bills are under consideration.

That blackout ended on Sunday, and the phones of political donors all over Texas started ringing the next morning.

Candidates won’t actually file for office until after Thanksgiving. They’ll mostly wait until after the holidays to start campaigning, commencing with the familiar blitz of ads on TV, in the mail and under the welcome mat on your front porch.

Most voters won’t pay much attention until then. The activists will pay attention, of course, as the candidates yap and shake hands at the endless community and club meetings around the state.

Jockeying for position started months ago. Republicans are waiting to see what Gov. Rick Perry and Abbott are going to do, but many of them have lined up — sometimes timidly, sometimes not — for jobs that might be open, depending on what the big dogs do.

And during this two-week sprint, they’ll find out who starts with an advantage and who does not. The ability to raise a bunch of money in a short time is a sign of strong political organization, appeal to the political donor class, and a candidate who’s for real and not just a big talker.

The ballots will shuffle — they always do. Sometimes, competition is the reason, as when one race gets crowded and another is not. Sometimes, it’s about the money.

Abbott, now serving his third term, ran for attorney general in 2002 after initially announcing for lieutenant governor. David Dewhurst — who had deep pockets and proved perfectly content to dig into them for politics — had jumped into that race. In the same way, Perry shouldered some other candidates out of the 1998 race for lieutenant governor. He won that year’s tough general election, but he didn’t have to battle any Republicans for a chance to get that far.

The next look at money won’t come until January, when a midmonth report on money raised during the last six months of the year is due.

Most candidates want to show their strength early, on the theory that it’s easier to beat competitors before they’re established. Some candidates — a fair number of the self-financing kind fit here — prefer to hide their money until it’s too late for the opposition to see what they’re up against.

The candidates this year have extra competition. Depending to some extent on what Perry and Abbott decide to do, there could be seven open seats on the statewide ballot next year. More than two dozen Republicans can fairly be counted as tire-kicking potential candidates right now.

It’s not just that there are three to five people thinking about the attorney general’s race, or four to five talking seriously about running for comptroller, and so on. It’s that they will all be fishing for money in the same pond.

Some of the show is for the contributors themselves, who might balk at giving money to a candidate — even one whose politics they like — if that candidate doesn’t look like a winner in the finance primary. The money could go to someone viable, after all.

This first round is less important for people who can self-finance, like Dewhurst, or who have already raised enough to be big and scary to competitors, like Abbott.

For the others, it’s a chance to find out for themselves — and for their competitors — whether they have any real support. During a legislative session, lawmakers hardly hear a discouraging word from supplicants.

Some will hear a new word on the other end of the phone during this finance rush: “no.”

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