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Craig James leaves ESPN to run for US Senate

Associated Press Modified: December 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm •  Published: December 19, 2011
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Running to the right is Ted Cruz, the Texas solicitor general from 2003-2008, who is backed by FreedomWorks, a national group that helps organize tea party activists. He's been endorsed by two former state Republican party chairwomen and Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate and a tea party favorite.

Also in the race is former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who touts his experience as a CEO of construction, real estate and financial services firms. Like all of the candidates in the race, Leppert says he supports small government, family values and conservative principles.

Despite the competition, Republican fundraiser and close friend Roy Bailey told The Associated Press on Monday that James's candidacy was good for the state.

"I think it's great for Texas. Anytime you have someone with Craig's street smarts and business sense and willingness to serve the public, it's a great thing," Bailey said.

James, 50, is likely banking on name recognition from his work for ESPN and his ties to big-time college football to overcome his late start. But his name recognition could also hurt him.

In 2009, Texas Tech fired popular football coach Mike Leach, who had the most wins in school history, after James complained to school administrators that Leach mistreated his son, a Red Raiders player.

Leach denies mistreating the younger James and has said Craig James had called coaches trying to get his son more playing time. Leach sued the university and named Craig James as a defendant. The case is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

From 1979-1982, James was a star player at SMU and was part of the record-setting "Pony Express" backfield with Eric Dickerson. Though the Mustangs won Southwest Conference championships in 1981 and 1982, the team was also embroiled in several NCAA investigations.

In 1987, the NCAA hit SMU with the so-called "death penalty" for repeated infractions, shutting down the program for a year after finding SMU had continued to pay players after promising in 1985 it would stop. The scandal is generally considered among the worst in college sports history.

James was never directly implicated in the NCAA transgressions and he has consistently denied any involvement.

After college, James was drafted by the Washington Federals in the USFL and signed with the Patriots before the 1985 season. He retired from football in 1989.

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Associated Press Writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.