There is a strong indication Thursday that the state's top lawyer has set his sights upon the Texas Governor's Mansion.
A source who has spoken with Republican donors says Attorney General Greg Abbott is saying he'll run for governor next year, challenging Rick Perry. With the 83rd Texas Legislative Session underway this week, Gov. Perry says he's focused on state business not re-election.
"I'll make my decision about what I'm going to do at the appropriate time, which will be June, July of this year," he said.
But until then, he can't raise any money.
State law doesn't allow Perry to accept campaign cash from Dec. 8 until after the regular session, June 17. The blackout covers Abbott, too.
However, a Republican source who knows of fundraising activity at this level told News 8 that, ahead of that December deadline, Abbott told big donors eager to back him in a run for governor that he would.
When asked for a reaction Thursday by KVUE-TV in Austin, Perry recalled the last prominent Republican to challenge him in a primary.
"Sen. Hutchison also announced that she was going to run for governor back in 2009 so everybody gets the freedom to do that," Perry said of the just retired senator he easily beat in 2010. "I'm real focused, which I hope the General is, too, on this legislative session."
But Perry could be significantly behind in the money race by mid-year.
At the midpoint of 2012, Abbott already had $14.5 million on hand, according to the finance records he's filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Perry has just $3.4 million.
Should Abbott widen the gap by summer, Perry was asked if that would discourage him from running.
"I've been underestimated many times before so we'll just let it sit right there," the governor replied.
Asked if Abbott assured large donors he'll run, Texans for Greg Abbott Campaign spokesman Eric Bearse wrote in a statement, "General Abbott has not made any announcements or decisions other than to vigorously serve the people of Texas. As Gen. Abbott previously remarked in a press conference, political decisions can wait until after the session. In the meantime, he is focused on taking care of the business of the people of Texas."
Voters elected Abbott to the Attorney General's office in 2002 and he easily won reelection again in 2010 with 64 percent of the general election vote.
He's cultivated the Republican party base, as Perry has, by both appealing to the tea party wing of the GOP that's become increasingly influential. Perry remains popular and powerful, having appointed every spot on every state board and commission many times over since he took office in December of 2000. He is the state's longest serving governor.
A Texas Tribune/UT poll published on October 29 found Perry favorably viewed by 45 percent of likely voters and unfavorably viewed by 42 percent.
The poll found 30 percent had a favorable view of Abbott with 19 percent that viewed him as unfavorable. Although he's less well known: 29 percent had no opinion and 23 percent described their opinion as neither positive nor negative.
Abbott's hinted for years that he has a desire to run for a higher office such as governor. But with Perry's unsuccessful run for president and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst still in Austin after losing his U.S. Senate bid, the logjam at the top of Texas state government remains.
Both Perry and Dewhurst are looking to polish their conservative bona fides in the coming legislative session in anticipation of possible reelection bids. However, in a potential March 2014 primary battle between Perry and Abbott, GOP voters would likely still be mindful of Perry's disastrous run for the White House and incumbent fatigue.
Abbott has waited patiently but now, the source says, he is giving signs that he'll move forward regardless. He also promised an announced decision come June.
Abbott and Perry are due to file their latest campaign finance reports covering a period from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2012 with the Texas Ethics Commission by next Tuesday.
There will be a clearer idea then of how much each has raised and which donors are backing whom.