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Rick Perry’s decision opens a clear path for Greg Abbott in governor’s race

Monday was all about Texas Gov. Rick Perry's future. But in announcing that he will not run for another term, the Republican made an immediate impact on the future of another GOP politician: Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the overwhelming frontrunner to succeed him as governor.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R). (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Abbott has been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run for some time. He has built a huge war chest, is well-connected in in Texas GOP circles, and is close to Perry.

In other words, Abbott has had all the ingredients to assume the title of gubernatorial favorite for some time. All except one -- the assurance that Perry would not run again. Abbott wouldn't challenge Perry, the governor said earlier this year. But with the governor now out of the picture, Abbott can move ahead along a pretty unobstructed path.

Which other Republicans might be able to give Abbott a run for his money?

"No one. The field clears," said Bill Miller, a longtime Texas Republican strategist and lobbyist.

Abbott released a statement Monday from his official office praising Perry. He made no mention of the governor's race, but he is widely expected to jump in.

"It has been a tremendous honor to work alongside Governor Rick Perry to help lead the great State of Texas. As Governor, Rick Perry has fought for lower taxes, less regulation and more job creation – all of which have helped Texas claim the best business climate in the nation," Abbott said.

Former state GOP chairman Tom Pauken is also running,  as is former Univision personality Miriam Martinez. But neither are expected to imperil Abbott's chances.

On the Democratic side, things are much less settled. What's clear is that Abbott would begin the general election as a heavy favorite against whoever Democrats end up nominating. And that will likely prompt Democrats' best prospects to sit out 2014 with an eye on the future.

"This makes it less likely a serious Democrat will run," said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

That said, there are some names worth watching. One is Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator whose marathon filibuster against a Perry-backed bill to tighten abortion restrictions catapulted her onto the national scene last month. A Davis-Abbott matchup would be striking because of their deep differences over abortion.

The other buzzy Democratic name in Texas is San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who is seen as a potential future gubernatorial candidate. But Castro, who burst onto the national radar with a well-received keynote address at last year's Democratic National Convention, is still young. And he is seen more as a prospect for 2018 or beyond, as Democrats are hopeful that demographic trends will boost their political standing in the Lone Star State in the coming years.

In 2010, there was considerable buzz about former Houston mayor Bill White (D), who pitched himself as a moderate alternative to Perry, put together an capable campaign team, and kept national Democrats at arm's length.

It didn't matter. Perry triumphed by 10 points, illustrating how tough it is for a Democrat to win the governorship in Texas. The late Ann Richards, who left office in 1995, is the last Democrat to hold the title.

Perry's decision not only clears the way for Abbott, it will likely trigger movement further down the ballot, too. With Abbott a virtual lock  to run for governor, other pols are sure to eye the attorney general's job.

Perry's future is now up in the air but Abbott's is really not, as far as the governor's race is concerned. Barring a major surprise, he is set to cruise to the state's top job.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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