Craig James exits ESPN to run for US Senate

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on December 19, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 19 at 9:39 PM

NEWS 8 EXCLUSIVE

CELINA — Former SMU football star turned ESPN analyst Craig James made it official on Monday.

He filed to run in the Texas Republican Primary for U.S. Senate on April 3.

James will face three candidates with more political and government experience: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.

But James appears serious about this race.

He's hired experienced, hard-edged, New York-based Republican consultant Arthur Finkelstein, and will also get campaign help from advisers who have worked for Gov. Rick Perry and presidential advisor Karl Rove.

James knows about running on a football field, but while visiting a friend's cutting horse business in Celina, James told WFAA in an exclusive interview he's ready to saddle up for a different kind of run for U.S. Senate.

"When they understand I'm living inside that economy right now; that, that I'm from Real Street and can provide an answer and an opportunity for them; I think that's going to resonate," James said.

James will take a leave from ESPN for his first jump into electoral politics. He'll emphasize his working class upbringing by a single mother, and business experience in broadcasting, ranching and real estate.

Unlike his opponents, James has had no full-time government experience, but he views that as a plus.

"Government background, government experience, in my world today is not a good thing," James said.

James became a lightning rod for controversy in 2009 over allegations that Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach mistreated his son, Adam, by ordering him to stand in a closet following a concussion.

It led to the termination of the popular coach.

"I don't think it's going to be a big issue at all, because people are going to understand the truth," James said. "The truth is, we stood up for our son. We protected our son. We did what any parent who understood and knew what we knew at that time would have done. I don't think people though really are looking for that. I think people in Texas want to know what can I do, what qualifies me to help them get a job."

James enters the race with good name identification, and when asked if he can raise the $5 million to $8 million other campaigns say they need to compete, he said the money will come.

But James has just about three months to do it. "Extending the amount of time that people can spend to get to know me, and where I come from, and that I'm one of them, and that's what our goal is," he said.

That leaves four serious candidates in the Republican Senate race, perhaps hurting David Dewhurst's bid the most. The lieutenant governor is considered the front-runner, but this could increase chances of a split vote in the April 3 primary, denying Dewhurst a clear win and forcing the primary into a June 5 runoff.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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