Austin — In light of Gov. Rick Perry’s decision not to seek re-election, and Attorney General Greg Abbott’s announcement on Sunday that he plans to run for governor, Texas is bracing for one of the most active down-ballot campaign seasons in years.
And Monday's fundraising reporting deadline offered an early look at how the candidates running in the crowded 2014 races for lieutenant governor and attorney general stack up financially. The required state reports cover political finance during the first six months of 2013. Current state officeholders were barred from raising money during the regular legislative session and for 20 days that followed; their reports include funds raised during the two weeks from June 17-30. Candidates not currently in office could raise money without restriction for all six months.
In the race to replace Abbott, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, hasn’t officially declared his candidacy. But as his filings on Monday made clear, he would start the race he's been talking about with a strong financial advantage over his potential opponents.
Branch’s campaign reported more than $4 million on hand and no debt. It includes $1.7 million raised in the last two weeks of June — $5,000 of which came from former President George W. Bush.
"Each new day brings fresh momentum to our campaign," Branch said in a statement teasing his fundraising numbers.
Meanwhile, Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, who has declared his candidacy for attorney general, raised nearly $700,000 in the two-week fundraising period that began June 17. That gives him slightly more than $1 million cash on hand.
In a statement, Smitherman expressed confidence about his fundraising numbers. “I ran my first statewide campaign in 2012 and had great success attracting contributions, raising over $4 million in 18 months,” he said. “I am extremely confident this campaign will be well funded.”
State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, who is also mulling a bid for attorney general, raised more than $278,000, giving him more than $1.6 million cash on hand.
"Sen. Paxton is honored at the strong encouragement he has received from across the state to run for Attorney General, and I would expect an announcement of his plans in the near future," Kevin Brannon, Paxton’s political consultant, said in an email.
Jim Henson, a Texas Tribune pollster and the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said strong fundraising reports can prove especially helpful to candidates in busy down-ballot races.
“At this stage of the election cycle, early fundraising numbers send signals to insiders about who crosses a basic threshold of having to be taken seriously,” Henson said. “This is especially true in crowded primary races, where candidates are often vying for relatively limited media attention and overlapping circles of fundraisers.”
But, Henson added, "the early numbers in a crowded field are unlikely to give you solid predictions of who will wind up winning several months down the road."
Case in point: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s failed 2012 bid for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz, in which the former outspent the latter by a wide margin.
Cruz attacked Dewhurst from the right, as Smitherman and Paxton are expected to do to Branch. In 2011, Paxton, then a member of the Texas House, mounted an unsuccessful bid to unseat Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, with whom Branch, the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, has been closely aligned.
Dewhurst is now attempting to hold on to his current position. His campaign reported that he raised more than $1.2 million and currently has $1.73 million in his war chest, putting him on fairly even footing with some of his rivals.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples raised roughly $1 million and has $3 million on hand. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson reported about $417,000 raised and $1.3 million on hand. State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, raised $100,000 in the final three days of June but has $2.1 million on hand. All three are looking to unseat Dewhurst.
For a sense of how the other statewide races are shaking out, here’s a list of how potential and declared candidates for each office performed in the recently concluded fundraising period:
Abbott, the front-runner to replace Perry, announced last week that he had raised $4.78 million in the last two weeks of June. During the previous reporting period, Abbott reported $18 million on hand. His full report for the first six months of the year, like many others that came in on the Monday deadline, was not immediately available for public review.
Former Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken announced he had raised $221,260.
Miriam Martinez reported no contributions and no expenditures.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat who has been encouraged by some of her fellow Democrats to run for governor, reported raising $933,000 since June 17, giving her a balance of $1,063,000. Nearly half of her contributions came from out of state, spurred in part by national coverage of her filibusters on abortion legislation in late June.
State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, reported raising $394,000 and reached mid-year with $1.016 million on hand.
Debra Medina raised $55,569 and had $55,005 on hand.
Raul Torres reported $2,350 raised and $2,531.17 on hand.
State Sen. Glenn Hegar raised $221,461.56 and had $1,802,687 on hand.
George P. Bush reported $2 million raised and $2.6 million on hand.
David Watts of Gilmer reported $270 raised and $1,271 on hand.
Malachi Boyuls reported $329,572 on hand.
Becky Berger reported $675 raised and $339.81 on hand, with $6,175 in outstanding loans.
State Rep. Stefani Carter raised $10,591.95 and had $3,301.79 on hand, with $1,858.30 in outstanding loans.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/07/16/statewide-candidates-report-/ .