Mark McKinnon, who once worked as a Democratic strategist here and later served as Bush’s chief media adviser in two presidential campaigns, called Perry’s announcement the end of an era in Texas politics — one that he said has been far more partisan than it was under Bush.
“The question now is will the next era be even more strident, or will the party soften and become more diverse and tolerant?” McKinnon wrote in an e-mail message after Perry’s announcement. “Texas is a two-party state, but as yet, the Democrats aren’t one of them. The real battle at least for the next political cycle will be over the direction of the Republican Party, not so much the ascension of the Democrats.”
Perry’s announcement comes at a time when the state’s changing demographics — the growth of a Hispanic population that tilts Democratic and the aging of a white Anglo population that remains solidly Republican — have given Democrats hope that at some point in the future, they can make this state competitive again.
Veterans of President Obama’s reelection campaign have begun organizing in Texas with the long-term goal of turning the state back in the direction of the Democrats. But most analysts here say it could be a half-dozen years or more before that happens. They also say Perry’s decision not to run again makes the Democrats’ challenge in taking back the governor’s office that much more difficult in 2014.
Democrats have found a new star in state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster helped block a restrictive abortion law in the legislature last month. She is now being talked about as a potential gubernatorial candidate next year, but would face long odds and potential financial disadvantage if she chose to run.
With Bush in political retirement and Perry exiting the governor’s office, a new generation of Republicans looking to put their stamp on the party in Texas will begin to assert their influence.
One of them is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who was elected just last year and has become a favorite of conservatives with his sharp-tongued pronouncements. Cruz has been mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, which could put him on a collision course with Perry and others for the support of the party’s most conservative wing.
Another Republican looking to rise is state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who had his eye on the governor’s office even before Perry announced he would not run again. He is now favored to become the GOP nominee and, in conservative Texas, would be likely to succeed Perry.