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AUSTIN — Democrat Mike Collier is running again for Texas lieutenant governor as the biggest slot on the 2022 party ticket remains vacant — a challenger to take on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

The announcement Tuesday by Collier, an accountant who ran as a moderate in two previously failed bids for statewide office, makes him one of Democrats' earliest entrants into next year's midterm elections after the party's lofty expectations in Texas last year foundered.

Beto O'Rourke, the former El Paso congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, said last week he is currently not considering a run for governor but did not rule out the possibility. When O'Rourke became a Democratic sensation during a narrow loss for U.S. Senate in 2018, his campaign drove massive turnout that carried downballot Democrats to surprisingly close finishes in Texas, where they haven't won a statewide race since 1994.

Collier, who lost to Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick by fewer than 5 points that year, said the state's handling of the pandemic and February's deadly blackouts has widened Democrats' opportunity to win one of Texas' most powerful offices.

"That will have a tremendous impact on national politics," Collier said. "It'll be a huge step forward in terms of electing a Democrat in 2024."

Patrick has said he looks forward to running for a third term.

During last year's election, Collier was an adviser to President Joe Biden's campaign in Texas. Biden came within 6 points in Texas — closer than any Democratic nominee here since 1996 — but it was a deflating cycle for Democrats who spent lavishly in Texas last year and believed that flipping the Texas House and several congressional seats were within reach.

Texas' candidate filing deadline is in December.

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