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Texas Politics Half-Ready for Labor Day Start

The Republican ticket is ready for the unofficial but traditional Labor Day start of the political cycle, but the Democrats are waiting for their top candidate to announce.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at a polling station in the Hancock Center on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012 in Austin, Texas.

If someone wrote an operating manual for politics, it would have a section on why the political season doesn’t really start until Labor Day.

It would have an addendum, too, saying why that date is not the final word on anything.

Lots of races are set. Texas Republicans know pretty much what the ballots will look like for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land, agriculture and railroad commissioners. Speculation is still percolating in some of those contests, but the names of any candidates who hope to raise serious money for a March primary are known.

The Democrats? Not so much. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth is talking to potential supporters and donors, measuring her odds in a statewide contest, trying to discern whether she might be able to win a race for governor and what that would require in terms of dollars and political troops.

If she runs, others are thinking about joining the ticket. Without her at the top, the Democrats don’t really have a top-notch candidate who is willing to run or has expressed interest in a race.

It’s a daunting idea, for all of the reasons you’ve heard. It would be daunting in a state with even numbers of Republicans and Democrats, if only because Attorney General Greg Abbott had a breathtaking head start, reaching midyear with $21 million in the bank. Davis, at that point, had a cash balance of $1.1 million.

Abbott has a primary opponent in March and Davis probably would not, so there’s a tiny break. Still, it’s a big lead in the money department.

The luckiest politician in Texas might turn out to be Sen. John Cornyn. Though his junior colleague, Ted Cruz, declined to endorse him last week, Cornyn might not be in the sort of contest that would require Cruz’s help. The absence of Cruz’s backing may be irksome, but it’s not tragic in a year when other establishment Republicans are facing threats in their own primaries.

Cornyn finds himself in circumstances that are enough to make an incumbent dance a jig: He has not drawn a well-known challenger in the Republican primary.

Down the Republican ballot, the race for lieutenant governor has three statewide officeholders and a state senator competing, which portends a knockdown, drag-out fight and also opens three other spots on the ballot. The Republican race for attorney general has a statewide officeholder and two legislators in it, opening another three seats down the ballot. There are four comptroller candidates on the Republican side, and two for land, four for agriculture and five for the railroad spots.

It’s busy over there — and it fits the Labor Day rule. Everything is in its place, or as close as it gets in politics.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are waiting for the lady with the now-famous pink tennies to tell them whether they’ve got a top for their ticket or not.

If Davis runs, the odds change for everyone else on the ballot, particularly on the statewide ballot. She wouldn’t make it safe, necessarily, but she would improve the chances that someone with Democratic leanings might go to the polls. There might not be enough of those people, but having them show up would answer the question of how many there are, and it’s comforting to walk into a dark alley if you can take some well-armed friends with you.

Look at it this way. If the Republican nominee for governor doesn’t have a serious Democratic opponent in next year’s general election, that candidate will be free to help others on the ballot. With Davis on the ticket, that Republican will have a race of his own to occupy the summer and fall of 2014.

Others who aren’t on the ballot this time figure into that, too. Gov. Rick Perry is sporting fashionable glasses and visiting presidential primary states, weighing another run for national office. Cruz is visiting some of those states, too.

A show of Democratic strength in Texas — a critical Republican state — might shine poorly on Texas officeholders like those two. On the other hand, it might make a Texas politician a must-have for a national ticket.

Just a thought. It’s still a few Labor Days away.

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