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Analysis: Timing of Mayoral Speculation Not on Van de Putte's Side

Last week, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, shot down speculation she was considering a run for San Antonio mayor. The rumors could hurt her prospects on multiple fronts.

Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Leticia Van de Putte speaks at the Democratic state convention in Dallas, Texas on June 27, 2014.

This tale begins with a denial.

“Under no circumstance will I be running for mayor of San Antonio. I will be in the Senate come January 2015.”

The speaker is state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, telling the San Antonio Express-News that speculation about her future plans was unfounded.

If she wins in November, she will preside over the state Senate starting in January. If she loses, she will return to her seat as a state senator, watching her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick, preside over the Senate.

You cannot fault the political logic underlying the speculation — that’s why the paper was asking, after all — but you can certainly fault the timing.

Van de Putte is trying to win a statewide race. It is an uphill run: She is a Democrat in a Republican state, a member of the same political party as a president who is not in favor with the state’s voters, and a candidate who started with no political base outside of her hometown.

She is also a good speaker, probably the most charismatic candidate on this year’s Democratic ticket, and a perfect stylistic and ideological foil to Patrick, a radio talk show host who is considered conservative even in a roomful of Republicans.

Even if she wanted to run for mayor, this would be the worst possible time to say so. It could undermine her current effort, dampen fundraising, distract her supporters and make foes of the local political friends she needs for the lieutenant governor’s race.

San Antonio had a popular incumbent mayor just weeks ago, until Julián Castro resigned after being appointed secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ivy Taylor, a city councilwoman, was appointed to serve the rest of Castro’s term. Taylor said at the time that she would not run for the office in 2015, which was apparently part of the attraction: Council members could vote for her without endorsing a candidate.

Strangely enough, this early talk about Van de Putte could also sabotage a race for mayor in 2015 if it turns out that the senator is interested when her current race is over.

If they take the rumors seriously, potential opponents could start lining up their support now, while she is engaged in the statewide race. And the lines of succession could get competitive and messy. Senate seats like this do not come around very often. Van de Putte, who had been in the Texas House since 1991, joined the Senate after winning a special election in 1999 and has easily held the seat ever since.

But just imagine the pent-up demand. San Antonio’s city council members serve limited terms. Among other things, that means the city produces a steady queue of ambitious politicians looking for their next elected office. Van de Putte is popular, which is part of the logic behind the mayoral talk and also the reason those ambitious fresh faces are afraid to run against her.

They are free to imagine themselves rising in the political firmament, however, and the musical chairs began immediately. In the version that creates the highest number of political openings, Van de Putte runs for mayor and opens her seat in the Senate. People like state Rep. José Menéndez, a fellow Democrat from San Antonio, line up for her seat. People line up for the House seat, if there is one, opened by that winner, and so on.

You can see why a candidate for lieutenant governor, who for the next three months or so is going to be focused on just one thing, slammed on the brakes.

Take her at face value, but remember the calendar. This is a seasonal rumor, out of place because of its timing.

Three months from now, who knows? If Van de Putte becomes lieutenant governor, those San Antonio wannabes will still get their chance to line up for her office and other opportunities. Should she lose, she might be happy in the Senate for another two years. Or perhaps she will be ready for another challenge.

There is always that open election for mayor in May.

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Politics State government Dan Patrick Texas Legislature