Already well-known in political circles and extremely well-financed, Attorney General Greg Abbott formally announced Sunday he's running for governor, hoping to seize the fiercely socially conservative mantle of Gov. Rick Perry that has helped make Texas the country's largest red state.
The campaign kickoff in downtown San Antonio came 29 years to the day after a freak accident left Abbott partially paralyzed. Still, the announcement was no surprise. The state's top cop since December 2002, Abbott has more than $22.7 million for his war chest and hasn't hidden his ambition to live in the governor's mansion.
Perry announced last week that he would not seek an unprecedented fourth full term as governor — though he hasn't ruled out another run for the White House in 2016. So, it was only a matter of time before Abbott joined the race to be Perry's successor and instantly being viewed as the front-runner.
"With the money, the name ID, the political structure of the state right now, it's beautiful for Greg Abbott," said Bill Miller, a longtime GOP political consultant based in Austin. "It's absolutely his race to lose."
Abbott carries a quiet confidence borne of seven years as a Texas Supreme Court justice before becoming attorney general. He has a reserved style and wry humor meant to disarm audiences who may be concerned about his disability, for which he uses a wheelchair.
Abbott, fresh out of law school, was jogging through Houston's well-to-do River Oaks neighborhood on July 14, 1984, when a 75-foot oak tree suddenly splintered at its base, striking him in the back and partially paralyzing him. Abbott sued the homeowner and a tree company that had worked in the area and collected millions.
He has since become a proponent of limiting civil litigation in Texas and capping the amount of damages people who are wronged can be awarded. Opponents have called him a hypocrite, but Abbott has largely shrugged off such criticisms. He rarely speaks about his accident.
Already an establishment GOP favorite, Abbott has spent months solidifying his right flank, speaking to grass-roots organizations and tea party groups in hopes of making the governor's race a foregone conclusion.
"He's going to sound a lot like Perry," Miller said. Abbott has also been cheered by many in his party for giving tea party firebrand and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz his start when he appointed him solicitor general in 2003.
In office since 2000, Perry remains popular but ran afoul of some Republicans for distributing funds to attract jobs to Texas that critics say is corporate welfare. Abbott, meanwhile, has burnished his credentials as a strong fiscal conservative — as well as being an outspoken proponent of gun rights and opponent of abortion.
But he's best known for using his office to sue the federal government 27 times during President Barack Obama's tenure, legal battles that have cost Texas at least $2.58 million. The results are decidedly mixed: Five wins, nine losses, nine pending and four where Texas dropped its complaint because of changing circumstances.
The chief target has been the Environmental Protection Agency, which Abbott sued 17 times over pollution standards and limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He also was part of the unsuccessful, multi-state effort to overturn the White House's signature health care reform law.
Abbott would be the first attorney general elected governor in Texas since Democrat Mark White, who served in the post from 1979 until 1983 and defeated incumbent Bill Clements in the 1982 governor's race.
Abbott's early fundraising prowess means 2014 could go down as the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in Texas history. In 2010, Perry spent $41.7 million to be re-elected, with Democratic challenger Bill White spending $24.8 million. But funds used in the respective primaries, including a challenge to Perry from then-Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, pushed that race's total over $100 million.
No Democrat has yet announced for the governor's race, but the party hasn't won any of Texas' 27 statewide offices since 1994. Former Obama re-election campaign operatives, who specialize in-depth data analysis of would-be voters, have founded "Battleground Texas" in hopes that a booming Hispanic population can eventually turn the state blue.
It isn't likely to pay off until long after next year's governor's race, but Abbott isn't taking the group lightly. He's even famously joked that Battleground Texas is more dangerous than North Korea's Kim Jong-un and has implored conservatives to "beat back this effort by Barack Obama and his liberal cronies."
Many Democrats have urged Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth to run, but she remains uncommitted. Davis became a national sensation for using a 12-plus-hour filibuster to temporarily block sweeping abortion restrictions from passing the Texas Legislature's first special session last month.
In the meantime, the only other announced candidate is former Texas Republican Party chairman Tom Pauken, a longshot who has complained that Abbott "seems to be the anointed one for the governor's chair."