Posted Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, at 1:37 PM
At the start of the year I ran down 10 conservatives who could end up defining the times. Number 10: Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams .
If events had broken another way in 2010, Williams might be the first black Republican in the Senate since the 1970s. He jumped into the race to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison back when it looked like she'd retire to challenge Gov. Rick Perry. He reluctantly suspended his campaign when she decided to keep her job. If she runs again in 2012, nothing will stop Williams from trying to muscle past the state's formidable Republican candidates and become the latest Tea Party cause celebre, using his substantial popularity in the movement to win a race that the smart money says he can't. The smart money has yet to get it right about a dark horse Tea Party candidate's chances.
I was wrong about one thing: Hutchison is retiring in 2012, opening up the seat. Williams still has his website from his stalled 2010 campaign. Republican consultant Patrick Ruffini points out that Williams has had twice as many Twitter mentions as any other 2012 U.S. Senate candidate, and that's because he's the only one who's a national conservative star, who can show off his photos from Tea Parties and his endorsement from Newt Gingrich, and who attends CPAC .
So there it is, the first Tea Party cause of the 2012 elections: Electing the first black Republican senator since Edward Brooke. (Two of the most beloved politicians in the movement are Williams and presidential candidate Herman Cain, by the way.)