AUSTIN -- Imagine politics is like a game of poker where the winner gets elected to office. Like any game of stakes, you have to buy in, and the more chips you have, the longer and more aggressively you can play. So who's stockpiling chips in Texas?
Despite an unsuccessful run for president, Texas Governor Rick Perry has raised $1.9 million so far this year through his campaign committee Texans for Rick Perry. According to records filed with the Texas Ethics Commission spanning January through June of 2012, Perry ended the reporting period with nearly $3.4 million cash-on-hand.
"Money flows to power," said Andrew Wheat, research director with campaign finance watchdog group Texans for Public Justice and a sharp critic of Perry.
"He's still Governor of Texas," said Wheat. "And in order to do business in this state, you've got to do business with the man. Perry is the man; the money's flowing to him. He has a vast fundraising ability and a huge political machine."
Other players are also sitting on small fortunes. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott raised nearly $3.1 million this year through committee Texans for Greg Abbott and finished the month of June with a war chest topping out at $14.5 million, presumably for a gubernatorial run.
"Attorney General Abbott's clearly been raising money for a long time. He's been sending clear signals that he wants to move up; he wants to run for statewide office," said University of Texas professor and Texas Politics Project Director James Henson.
"I think if Abbott gets the right signals from both Republican primary voters, brokers in the Republican Party and critically the business community and the donor community that it's okay to run against the governor, I think if he sees that path, he will take it," said Henson.
"They have similar policies. They're pulling off the same mega fundraiser list, the same donors," said Wheat. "So what would happen if come next year Greg Abbott announces he's running for governor against Rick Perry? A lot of that will depend upon what smart money thinks at that time. Who has the best chance to prevail in the state of Texas?"
The race to be the next lieutenant governor may be equally tricky. Incumbent David Dewhurst's campaign committee David Dewhurst Committee finished the reporting period with more than $81,000 in contributions, more than $777,000 cash-on-hand and more than $637,000 in outstanding loans. Dewhurst's run for U.S. Senate came to an end after losing to opponent Ted Cruz in the Republican primary run-off July 31.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has announced plans to run in 2014, regardless of whether Dewhurst seeks re-election. Patterson raised more than $440,000 during the first half of 2012, with nearly $667,000 cash-on-hand.
Also in the conversation to succeed Dewhurst, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples raised almost $430,000 during the same reporting period through the committee Texans for Todd Staples, closing with $1.6 million in the bank. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs socked away more than $989,000 through campaign committee Friend of Susan Combs, ending the reporting period with the largest war chest among the projected contenders at nearly $6.7 million.
"That shadow race has been going on for a long time," said Henson. "Jerry Patterson is very clear he's running. The comptroller has been a little bit more coy about it, but we know that that contest is set."
"The big question mark is Rick Perry, and a lot of the other candidates' fates kind of roll off of that," said Henson. "Most critical I think, we see what happens in the presidential election. In the event of a Romney victory, it seems to me much more likely that Governor Perry much more seriously considers a run for governor again."
"For 12 years his colleagues in the Republican Party, like Abbott, like Combs, have been waiting to move on up," said Wheat. "These are ambitious politicians, and they are warehousing money for the day that they can move up."
"It's kind of like a toilet, plumbing. There's pressure building up underneath the throne, and that is inherently unstable," said Wheat.
Meanwhile, the chips are stacking up.