WFAA’s Brad Watson posted the story on the Dallas station’s website yesterday evening:

There is a strong indication Thursday that state’s top lawyer has set his sights upon the Texas Governor’s Mansion. 

A source who has spoken with Republican donors says Attorney General Greg Abbott is saying he’ll run for governor next year, challenging Rick Perry. With the 83rd Texas Legislative Session underway this week, Gov. Perry says he’s focused on state business not re-election.

“I’ll make my decision about what I’m going to do at the appropriate time, which will be June, July of this year,” he said. 

But until then, he can’t raise any money. 

State law doesn’t allow Perry to accept campaign cash from Dec. 8 until after the regular session, June 17. The blackout covers Abbott, too. 

However, a Republican source who knows of fundraising activity at this level told News 8 that, ahead of that December deadline, Abbott told big donors eager to back him in a run for governor that he would.

When asked for a reaction by KVUE in Austin, Perry recalled the last prominent Republican to challenge him in a primary:

“Sen. Hutchison also announced that she was going to run for governor back in 2009 so everybody gets the freedom to do that,” Perry said of the just retired senator he easily beat in 2010. “I’m real focused, which I hope the General is, too, on this legislative session.”

But Perry could be significantly behind in the money race by mid-year.

At the midpoint of 2012, Abbott already had $14.5 million on hand, according to the finance records he’s filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Perry has just $3.4 million.

Should Abbott widen the gap by summer, Perry was asked if that would discourage him from running.

“I’ve been underestimated many times before so we’ll just let it sit right there,” the governor replied.

In my post on Tuesday, about the first day of the session, I noted Perry’s meandering remarks to the House of Representatives. This was a moment when Perry could have seized the bully pulpit and laid out an agenda to move Texas forward. He did touch on some vague proposals about infrastructure and education but, as usual, he made no concrete proposals. Perry behaved very much like someone who has retired, which in fact is exactly what he is. He couldn’t have cared less.

In any event, my sense of the speech was that Perry isn’t going to run for reelection, and he isn’t going to run for president. Maybe he has already arranged for his exit, and maybe he and Abbott have cut a deal. I don’t think he’ll take on Abbott because he doesn’t want to lose, and I think Abbott would beat him.

So what does it mean for the state Republican party? When he is engaged, Perry is a better politician than Abbott. But Abbott is sharper than Perry, and he is more transparent. I can’t see Abbott engaging in crony capitalism, certainly not to the degree Perry does. And he is more interested in public policy. But I sense in Abbott an absence of empathy.

Perry’s great failing as governor was (if I may be permitted to use the past tense) that he made no effort to represent all the people of Texas. He only cared about catering to the ideology of the hard right. It is unconscionable that Perry is willing to forgo Medicaid expansion that could pump millions, perhaps billions, of dollars into the Texas economy that could benefit the state’s hospitals and doctors, while withholding quality health care to uncounted thousands of Texans, all for the sake of thumbing his nose at Obama. I would like to think that Abbott would be practical enough to accept the expansion. He is not as ideologically rigid as Perry, but he is one of the most partisan of all the state officials. We saw that in redistricting.

This news comes at a moment when the state Republican party is in desperate need of rebranding. It is essentially a collection of tea parties. Perry has demonstrated no interest in rebranding the party. Nor does Abbott strike me as one who thinks that the party needs rejuvenation. The mantle should fall on Joe Straus, but the tea parties that seek to bring Straus down are blind to the fact that he is the person best situated to rebuild the party. Anyone who doubts that Straus is not a “real” Republican did not hear him say (as I did shortly after he put together the votes to be speaker in 2009), “I am Republican to the core.” Well, you can’t fix stupid, as Ron White likes to say. If the Republicans can’t figure out that Straus is the best person to chart their future, that’s their loss.

And so, we have reached the moment at which it is possible, for the first time in a decade, to envision an occupant of the Governor’s Mansion other than Rick Perry. He has hit the wall, and I think he knows it. He stayed too long, and he has lost the mojo that is an essential quality of a successful politician. Perry has had an amazing career, but he has reached the point at which he has nowhere to go except o-u-t.