The candidates are coming.
After months of talking up Texas' clout in the 2016 presidential race, the White House hopefuls are beginning to take their first formal step toward competing in the state's March 1 primary: getting on the ballot. The period to do so began Saturday and runs through Dec. 14.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, three Republican candidates had filed, according to the state GOP: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and billionaire Donald Trump. The campaign of Texas' favorite son, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, expects to get him on the ballot in the coming weeks.
Lucky for them, it's not too hard to compete in the Lone Star State. The Republican Party of Texas requires candidates to pay a $5,000 fee or gather 300 signatures from registered voters in each of 15 of Texas' 36 congressional districts. That's a much lower bar to clear than some other states. The filing fee for Republicans in South Carolina, for instance, is $40,000.
On the Democratic side, the process is even easier. Hopefuls have to pony up just $2,500 or produce 500 signatures to get on the Texas ballot.
As of Wednesday evening, none of the three major contenders for the Democratic nomination — Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders — had filed for the nominating contest.
GOP candidates have been paying special attention to the state due to its earlier-than-usual date and inclusion in the "SEC primary," a group of mostly southern states all set to vote March 1. With 155 delegates at stake, Texas is the biggest prize that day.
Bush made a point to be the first Republican hopeful to file for the Texas primary Saturday, the first possible day. His campaign dispatched Bush's son, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, to complete the paperwork at Texas GOP headquarters in Austin.
"Proud to be the first to file paperwork in the State of Texas for my Dad's campaign," George P. Bush tweeted with a photo of himself and Tom Mechler, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.
Carson, meanwhile, recruited supporters in Texas to help pay the filing fee. In an email to backers Friday, Carson promised to put their name on his filing if they chipped in.
On Wednesday, Carson's campaign revealed it ended up raising more than three times the fee — $15,670 — over a 48-hour period. In a statement, Carson said he was "grateful to all the Texans who have provided time and resources to help me get on their state’s GOP ballot."
Trump's campaign has not publicized his filing yet but has made no secret of its hopes for Texas, which he visited Saturday for a rally in Beaumont.
"The Trump for President campaign is the strongest Presidential campaign in Texas ... and we are just getting started!" Trump's Texas team wrote in an email to supporters last week.
While the Republican field in particular is expected to narrow before the first primary contest, January's Iowa caucus, the field may not change before the Texas filing deadline. In recent months, televised debates have played a role in winnowing the fields, in part through television networks relegating some struggling candidates to an earlier program. The Dec. 14 filing deadline in Texas comes the day before the next televised Republican debate in Nevada.