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Analysis: Campaigning for a Seat Not Yet in Play

Three candidates are vying for the state Senate seat occupied by Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican. They're even advertising. But Hegar is still in office, and that seat is not on the November ballot.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, the Republican nominee for state comptroller, is shown at a TribLive event on May 29, 2014.

Voters in the state's 18th Senate District are being treated to candidate advertising on television, in the mail and on social media — but that Senate seat is not on the ballot this year.

The candidates reaching out to voters have not filed to run for it. And if state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, decides to leave early, the date of the special election to replace him has not been set.

Even so, Republicans Gary Gates of Richmond, Charles Gregory III of Simonton and state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham are actively campaigning for the job. Other candidates could join the race, if and when there is one, but they will be lagging behind the others.

Hegar is running for comptroller of public accounts, which is on this year’s ballot. The statewide position is also coveted by Mike Collier, a Democrat, Ben Sanders, a Libertarian, and Deb Shafto of the Green Party. Hegar is the front-runner, but he is not taking the race for granted and wants nothing to do with conversations about who might succeed him and when. The only person with a reasonable idea of how this might play out is the one who is busy not contributing to the speculation.

The winner of the comptroller’s race will take office in January, when Susan Combs ends her term. If Hegar wins, then taking the oath of office for comptroller will also bring an end to his four-year term in the Senate. The governor would pick a date for a special election, the winner of which would succeed Hegar sometime in the spring — well into the legislative session that begins on Jan. 13.

An election could happen earlier, should Hegar win his race and resign before he takes up his new post. Leave open that other possibility — that Hegar loses and returns to his seat in the Senate for another two years. He has a government job no matter what happens on Nov. 4.

And if you mix some of those special election scenarios with a group of anxious candidates, you get the current situation.

Kolkhorst, who describes herself as a Type A personality — to anyone who knows her, a significant understatement — is running a TV commercial on immigration and border security. She has sent at least one mailer to voters.

“This is very unusual — it’s different to run for a seat that’s not open,” Kolkhorst said. She did not feel, however, that waiting for the opening was an option. “I am not going to cede months to any opponent — not gonna do it.”

Gates has rained even more mail fliers on voters — six so far, he said — and his television ads started in August.

It is clear that he started this stampede in the 21-county district. But Gates lost three previous legislative races to Hegar and concluded that officeholders have a natural head-start. “I have to think outside the box, and that’s what I did,” he said. “I caught them all flat-footed. I had to get out there and get my name ID.”

He also snagged an endorsement from former Rep. Ron Paul, who represented an overlapping area of the state in Congress.

Gregory was actually the first to get in, telling people back in August 2013 he would run. He has not joined the advertising wars. He is, however, busy on the finance front: His Facebook page features pictures from a recent fund-raiser.

He is the only candidate following a conventional campaign plan, raising money, making speeches and holding back on the advertising until the race officially begins. The other two want to establish themselves early with voters. Gregory calls that “a waste of time and money” — especially since they are running their ads in a sea of political commercials for candidates who are on the November ballot.

“It’s going to be confusing to all of the people who might be voting for them,” Gregory said, “because they’re not going to be on the ballot.

“I have been sitting on the sidelines, doing nothing, watching the free-for-all between the two of them,” he said. “I don’t feel inclined to get involved in that.”

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2014 elections Glenn Hegar Lois Kolkhorst