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Analysis: A 2020 holiday fantasy for Texas officeholders looking to 2022

Big election campaigns take years to mount. So some politicians aren't thinking about the 2020 elections. They're dreaming and planning for 2022.

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* Correction appended

Even the kids in the elected class have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, dreaming at the end of another year what might be next in politics, and for them.

We get these moments of pent-up demand, when the spots at the top of the ladder are occupied and the people on the lower rungs are quietly hoping those upper occupants will get on down the road. There just aren’t as many top perches as there are people who want them. That has to be frustrating.

Most of us are focused on the 2020 election right now. But as 2020 candidates are raising money, trying to survive their March primaries, launching attacks and mounting defenses, some are dreaming of 2022 campaigns for statewide offices.

Big election campaigns don’t take weeks or months. They take a couple of years or more. And a number of politicians — Republicans, in particular — are poised to jump if openings appear at the top of the ladder. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, to name a few, would be on the short list of contenders for governor or lieutenant governor, should Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick decide not to run for reelection two years from now.

They’re stuck at a stoplight that stalled a previous set of GOP officeholders, and before that, a full set of Democrats.

Go back in time. Rick Perry was governor of Texas for 14 years — a time when a number of high officials either ran for office and lost, moving on to something else, or just remained in place, waiting for something to happen.

One attorney general at that time, John Cornyn, ran for U.S. Senate. His successor, Abbott, became the longest-serving AG in Texas history. While Abbott was doing that, he was also amassing a huge campaign account balance — one that turned out to be scary enough to keep most of his potential competitors out of the 2014 primary for governor. Others who want to follow that path should start stuffing campaign money into their mattresses early, before rivals do it.

Others who held statewide offices during that time period ran and lost, like former Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, who challenged Perry in 2006 as an independent. Three — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — lost a Republican primary for lieutenant governor to Patrick in 2014.

A pack of Democrats elected in the early 1980s lost, moved up or sat tight. Two of them, Phil Gramm and Kent Hance, switched to the GOP; without discounting philosophy and ideology as the reasons for their jumps, it’s worth noting that there was less competition on the Republican ticket than on the Democratic one in those days. Former Gov. Mark White ran into two of his previous ticket mates — Attorney General Jim Mattox and Treasurer Ann Richards — in the 1990 primary. Another set of statewides tussled into the 1990s, including Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison, Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, Attorney General Dan Morales, Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry and Comptroller John Sharp.

Only the two Republicans, Hutchison and Perry, reached the high offices they were chasing. Even they clashed, with Perry defeating Hutchison in the 2010 Republican primary for governor.

A new group of gladiators awaits. And they won’t be alone, when it comes to it. Texas Democrats have been slowly building a bench of candidates who are known statewide, with brand names like Castro and O’Rourke. Don’t leave out the big-city mayors, several of whom already have many more constituents than, say, Pete Buttigieg. The House and Senate are full, too; that’s where many of the current and former statewides cut their teeth.

The 2020 election is the main show now, and should be. But the people we’ll be talking about in two years are already dreaming.

Correction: A reference to the Republican primary lost by three sitting statewide officials referred to the wrong contest: It was the 2014 GOP primary for lieutenant governor.

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