The race within the race
Thu February 25, 2010 10:58 am

The reference is to the speaker's race.

What speaker's race? The story that is going around is that Chisum has been inviting members to his ranch. He has emerged as the most likely candidate of the hardline conservatives, if they decide to put up a fight, but the problem is that he can't decide whether he wants to be on the inside or on the outside. He really wanted to be on Sunset, but that was never going to happen.

For conservatives to mount a challenge to Straus, four things must happen:

--First, hardliners must win some races in districts that are currently represented by mainstream conservatives. Brian McCall's district offers such an opportunity. Two hardliners, Van Taylor and Wayne Richard, are running hard and mean against Mabrie Jackson, a mainstream conservative. Delwin Jones is in a similar battle against mainstreamer Zach Brady and hardliner Charles Perry. Todd Smith is fighting for his life against hardliner Jeff Cason. Chuck Hopson, born again as a Republican, is another vulnerable mainstream conservative; he has two opponents, one of whom charges, on Facebook, "Don't be fooled! . . . Chuck Hopson is no Republican!" [ellipses are original] In the race to succeed Dan Gattis, longtime GOP hatchet man Milton Rister, the former director of the Legislative Council, is the hope of the hardliners. Vicki Truitt has three challengers who are running at her from the right.

--Second, Republicans must regain some of the seats that they have lost in the last several election cycles. Diana Maldonado, a freshman who established a Democratic beachhead in Williamson County, is one of the most vulnerable D's. Also high on that list is Mark Homer, one of the few remaining WD-40s. Joe Moody in El Paso and Kristi Thibaut in Houston are targets as well, but Bill White may provide cover for Thibaut in Houston.

--Third, the hardliners are going to have to woo some disillusioned and discontented Democrats. These are D's who were prominent in the battle to unseat Craddick but believe that Straus did not reward them appropriately when he handed out committee chairmanships. The R's may also find fertile ground among the former Craddick D's.

--Fourth, the hardliners must exploit the jealousies of mainstream Republicans who are tired of seeing the ten remaining cardinals and Strausian insiders get more than their share of the goodies.

But the conservatives have suffered some losses of their own. Except for McCall, the retirements in the House have been very favorable to Straus. Hardliner Frank Corte is out. He will be succeeded by Lyle Larsen, a mainstream Republican. Hardliner Carl Isett is out. He is likely to be succeeded by Mark Griffin, a mainstream Republican. (Isett gave Griffin's opponent, John Frullo, $30,000 from his campaign fund.) Hardliner Joe Crabb is out, and the three candidates who are vying to replace him do not appear to be hardliners. Hardliner David Swinford is out and the race to succeed him is between Victor Leal, a Panhandle restaurateur whom Swinford has endorsed, and Walker T. Price IV, known locally as "Four Price." Price is endorsed by Parent PAC and Leal home schooled his kids. [Previous information that Leal advocates vouchers was incorrect.] He has been the subject of two controversies: he moved into Potter County (Amarillo) to run, and he received a $65,000 contribution from megacontributor Bob Perry, which may be an indication that Republicans have figured out that they need to elect more Hispanics.

While the outcomes of the Lubbock and Amarillo races are by no means sure things, Straus will certainly gain two supporters from retirements, and perhaps more. The Gattis seat could also end up going his way. A four-or-five seat gain by Straus would put a quick end to rumors about a speaker's race. In short, a sitting speaker is odds-on to win the support of any new Republican member, even a hardliner.

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