Commentary: Texas could still mean something in GOP presidential race

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 24, 2012 

With the Texas primary still more than two months away, and no assurances that the GOP presidential nominating process will have been decided by then, folks in the Lone Star State are anxiously preparing for company.

Some state officials are bemoaning the fact that Texas elections have been delayed until May 29 because of redistricting court battles, forcing the state to miss March's much-heralded "Super Tuesday," when 10 other states participated in primaries and caucuses.

The concern was that the nation's second-largest state would have no real say in choosing the next Republican nominee for president.

But after Rick Santorum chalked up wins in Alabama and Mississippi last week, although still greatly trailing front-runner Mitt Romney in the delegate count, there is a feeling among many party faithful and political pundits that the momentum is with him. "True conservatives" are giddy about the prospect of Santorum winning enough races between now and June to cause a brokered convention in August.

The trail to the convention would become more interesting in Texas, where Republicans are armed with the second-most delegates in the country (155). Even Californians, whose primary is in June, are holding out hope that their 172 delegates will be the ones to really decide the nominee to face President Barack Obama in the general election.

If there truly is a contested campaign in this state, it could have ramifications for others on the ballot as the GOP old guard battles Tea Party upstarts. And depending how much money the candidates and their supporting super political action committees spend on advertising, it could get dirty real quick.

Former first lady Barbara Bush, a Romney supporter, is on record voicing her disgust with this year's campaign.

"I think it's been the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life," Bush said during an appearance this month with daughter-in-law Laura at Southern Methodist University.

Intra-party battle lines have been drawn for a while as the elder Bushes and other GOP heavyweights backed Romney, and Gov. Rick Perry, after a failed presidential bid, threw his staunch support behind Newt Gingrich.

That leaves Santorum -- with his growing Tea Party, social conservative and evangelical support -- and Rep. Ron Paul, who has a following of Libertarians and other big-government haters.

A new poll out last week by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, a GOP survey group, showed Santorum ahead of Romney in Texas by 8 percentage points, 35 percent to 27 percent, followed by Gingrich with 20 percent and Paul with 8 percent.

Should Santorum hang on to that lead, who knows what impact his voters will have on down-ballot races -- statewide, congressional and legislative and even county elections.

A lot will depend on who can get their message and their voters out. This is not Kansas or Mississippi.

Texas has 20 media markets, including the fifth- and 10th-largest in the country (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, respectively). That means candidates will have to spend a lot of money on advertising and a lot of face-time in the state.

And, based on what we've seen in other primary and caucus states, it's sure to get downright nasty.

The candidates, however, will try to balance their mean streaks with their softer personas demonstrated by imitating local accents, holding babies and eating down-home food like grits, biscuits and barbecue. Of course, in Texas they'll have to add tamales to that list -- and I trust none will eat the Mexican staple with corn husk still on it.

After the Alabama and Mississippi contests, The Associated Press tabulated the delegate count at 495 for Romney, 252 for Santorum, 131 for Gingrich and 48 for Paul. It takes 1,144 to win.

Because Gingrich and Santorum have vowed to take their campaigns all the way to the convention in Florida regardless of delegate count, Texans can expect to see quite a bit of the candidates here in the next few weeks.

So, get out the welcome mats, y'all. While you're at it, you might want to stock up on some bicarbonate of soda.

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