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A Candidate Experienced Enough to Drop Out

Politicians have to learn how to read voters, even when the voters aren't telling them what they want to hear.

Tom Pauken, who is running for governor, speaking to a young Republicans group in Houston on June 27, 2013.

Tom Pauken lost the finance primary and, unlike some less experienced or self-aware candidates, realized it and got out of the 2014 race for the Republican nomination for governor.

Early on, he said he would need to raise at least $2 million and pull together a statewide organization to forge ahead. That’s a shoestring budget in a statewide race in Texas. For instance, it’s about the amount you need to run one week of television commercials at the required level of saturation.

Even that was out of reach, and Pauken — a veteran of campaigns for Congress and for attorney general, a former chairman of the Texas GOP, a pugnacious conservative for more than three decades and, importantly, a former venture capitalist — pulled the plug. VCs know when to do that.

This is from his press release:

When I first filed our exploratory committee in March, I said at the time that there were certain, minimum objectives we needed to achieve to win the Republican nomination: (1) We had to raise a minimum of $2 million; (2) We had to build a strong, statewide organization; (3) We had to develop a major social media presence in a short period of time.

Even though I have worked hard to get our message out across the state the past six months, unfortunately we are nowhere near where we need to be financially and organizationally to win this race. And, the primary is only three months away. I can no longer in good conscience ask friends and fellow conservatives to continue to help me when there appears to be no realistic path to victory. Greg Abbott has a $25 million war chest and the media depicts this as a Greg Abbott v. Wendy Davis race.

It’s hardly an endorsement of Abbott. Pauken went on to write that his message — that the GOP needs a new style of leadership, etc. — “has not resonated with enough contributors, party leaders and grassroots conservatives to show a pathway to victory.”

It’s also a testament to starting early. Abbott has been aiming at this race for years, waiting for Rick Perry to move along but raising money and building an organization at the same time. His stack of money is just the most visible sign of a campaign designed to scare even well-established Republicans, like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a handful of others, out of running for the state’s top office.

Pauken’s bet was that voters would see Abbott as an extension of Perry’s administration — he said on occasion that Abbott was running for Perry’s fifth term — and that those voters might be looking for something new.

His decision not to file leaves Abbott with three Republican opponents, each with thinner political résumés than Pauken’s: Lisa Fritsch, Larry “Secede” Kilgore and Miriam Martinez. Democrat Wendy Davis awaits in the fall, along with the winner of the Libertarian primary.

Pauken’s withdrawal from the race, while not surprising, affirms Abbott’s strategy of raising enough money fast enough that nobody else can catch up, either in the number of donors or the number of dollars. It’s like the old military strategy of building so many missiles that no other country dares start a war.

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2014 elections