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Waiting in the Wings: A Fresh Set of Also-Rans

The 2014 election season is packed with competitive statewide races pitting current officeholders against one another, which means that a lot of those candidates may not be serving in public office anywhere come 2015.

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Some of the big shots on the 2014 ballot are people whose names you won’t be able to remember in five or 10 years.

Some will climb the ladder, but others are destined for the chutes.

Four elected officials — three in statewide office, one a state senator — are running for lieutenant governor. Three are going home.

Three more — a statewide official and two legislators — are in a Republican primary for attorney general. The same math is at work in the comptroller’s race, although one of the elected officials in that race, Glenn Hegar, would get to keep his state Senate seat if voters denied him a promotion.

The primaries are just the beginning of the yearlong cutting contest. At least one current officeholder will not survive the governor’s race.

It happens from time to time. A pack of politicians arrive at the same point of their careers at the same time. They might be friends. They might have appeared on the same tickets together. But this is business.

The top jobs in Texas government have belonged to Republicans for a couple of decades, and the turnover has been pretty light. The combination of a bunch of open seats and a horde of ambitious folks who have been waiting, faking patience, means the candidates are now free to grab at the jobs they covet.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples have been on the same statewide ballot a couple of times. They’re joined by state Sen. Dan Patrick, who Dewhurst put in charge of the Senate’s education committee. The four men are now in an uncomfortable contest for Dewhurst’s job. Three will go home, to retirement, back to work, to a place where each can plot his next political move if he still has the urge.

Losers go home to stay, sometimes, and sometimes return. In 1998, Paul Hobby, a Democrat, lost a close race for comptroller and has not run since. Only one of the last five Democrats who ran for governor re-entered the fray. Chris Bell, a former member of Congress, lost the governor’s race in 2006 and then lost a state Senate race in 2008.

Someone in here will be a big winner, eventually, inside or outside of public office.

Some losers come back. Patterson lost a race for land commissioner to Dewhurst in 1998, but he won the seat in 2002 when Dewhurst ran successfully for lieutenant governor.

Others move on to prominent nonelected positions. When Kent Hance and Phil Gramm, two Democratic congressmen from Texas, rose to national prominence for carrying legislation that put Ronald Reagan’s economic program on track, they seemed bound for great things. They ended up in the same pack, running for the same U.S. Senate seat. Gramm landed in the Senate. Hance served on the Railroad Commission and tried and failed to win the governorship. But he landed fine: He is ending his public career after several years as chancellor at the Texas Tech University System.

A few years after that, another cluster of former friends and ticket mates arrived at the platform at the same time. Two of them — Aggies John Sharp, a Democrat, and Rick Perry, a Republican — landed in a hard-fought 1998 race for lieutenant governor. Perry won, and you know the rest of that story, so far. Sharp lost a second race for lieutenant governor in 2002, but later made up with Perry and is now chancellor of the Texas A&M University System.

Like Hance, it was not a bad landing, but not quite what he had in mind.

Maybe those two — and Bell and Bill White and Tom Leppert and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jack Fields and Mike Andrews and Carole Keeton and Garry Mauro and Pat Hill — can set up a self-help group for rising political stars derailed by elections. They can talk about what it’s like to be knocked off of the elected ladder after a successful run as a comptroller, a congressman, a mayor, a senator or a land commissioner. They can talk about the ones who walked away from politics and did fine in other endeavors, or the ones who lost and then fought their way back to the top — phoenixes like Lincoln, Johnson, Nixon, both Bushes and the Clintons.

They’ll have a large roster of new members after next year’s primaries.

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