With former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams dropping out of the race to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Tuesday, the Republican field in Texas' Senate contest is beginning to take shape.
Williams announced Tuesday that he would run for a new Arlington area House seat instead of continuing his Senate campaign. He joins former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who also made the switch over from the Senate race to seek the GOP nomination in the new House district.
The departure of Roger Williams comes just one day after Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst gave his strongest indication yet that he will enter the Senate race. In an email to supporters Monday, Dewhurst heralded the "conservative victories" of the state legislative session and hinted that he would soon launch his campaign.
"I have been humbled by the support I've received from countless Texans encouraging me to run for the U.S. Senate," Dewhurst wrote. "After we finish the important state business this Session, we will have exciting news to share with you about what we will do next."
Speculation has surrounded a possible Dewhurst run since Hutchison announced her plans to retire in January. With high statewide name recognition and deep pockets, Dewhurst is considered the early favorite to capture the Republican nomination if he runs.
But the flight to the House race could have as much to do with the emergence of former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz as the potential entrance of Dewhurst. While the legislative session has occupied the lieutenant governor's time, the Republicans already in the race have spent the past few months trying to define themselves as the conservative alternative to Dewhurst, who has been labeled too moderate by some on the right, including Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Armed with endorsements from FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, as well as a recent column from George Will gushing about his potential, Cruz has stepped forward as the most likely candidate to challenge Dewhurst from the right.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, who hosts a conservative radio show out of Houston, could still challenge Cruz for Tea Party support in the race. But Patrick hasn't said much about his intentions since announcing the formation of an exploratory committee earlier this month. Some political observers have speculated that he might forego a Senate bid and possibly turn his attention toward a gubernatorial run in 2014.
The wildcard in the race may be former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Despite taking strong conservative stances on most issues since kicking off his campaign, many grassroots activists in Texas view Leppert as too moderate. A Dewhurst candidacy could harm Leppert's chances the more than any other candidate by capturing the support of the state's Republican establishment.
But Leppert remains a factor thanks to his strong fundraising capabilities. Leppert posted the highest fundraising total in the first quarter, raising $1.1 million, and the former businessman, like Dewhurst, has the personal wealth to partially finance his own campaign.
The fundraising numbers for the second quarter, which comes to a close Thursday, will provide the next key test in the race. A strong showing from Cruz, who solicited donations Tuesday as part of a final 72 hour push, would reinforce the notion that he can raise the necessary cash to accompany his budding conservative stardom. Leppert needs another impressive quarter to reassert his relevancy in the race with Cruz gaining momentum and Dewhurst inching closer to officially entering the contest. Both candidates would be well served to put themselves in as strong positions as possible before Dewhurst's candidacy becomes official.