By Jack Fink

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne launched his campaign for governor before nearly 100 supporters at the Dallas Hyatt Regency Saturday night.

He told them, “We are here to take Texas back.”

The Democrat, who is in a same-sex marriage, criticized Gov. Greg Abbott and Republicans for supporting a bathroom privacy bill and targeting illegal immigrants.

Payne says he wants to bring the state together. “When they rule by fear, we rise with courage. When they promote discrimination, we celebrate diversity.”

Payne says he wants to spend more on public education, expand Medicaid, and women’s health.

He supports a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants and says climate change is real.

He does support the second amendment, and describes himself as a fiscal conservative and socially liberal.

The Democrats don’t have a well-known, political veteran to take on Abbott, who is very popular and has $40 million in the bank.

SMU political science professor Cal Jillson says the party has been looking for a Gubernatorial candidate who people recognize, but has come up short.

Jillson says, “It’s going to be a bleak year for Democrats in Texas. It’s deeply troubling because it really demonstrates that they are just a shell. They don’t have a bench they can draw on. They don’t have people who are willing to give money anymore.”

Payne’s supporters including Jose Loza say they know the odds, but are hopeful. “I think a lot of people in Texas are ready for a change. It’s been too long, too-too long that the Republican party has been in control of Texas.”

When asked how prepared he is for the uphill battle, Payne replied, “It’s not going to be easy, we know it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

He has already loaned his campaign $2.5 million and is now planning to drive across the state starting Tuesday through the March 6 primary.

Besides the Democrats, there is an Independent candidate running for Governor: A Dallas small businessman named Danny Harrison. “Texas needs common sense. We need pragmatism, and we need entrepreneurship in the Governor’s office,” he said.

He says his top three priorities include allowing gambling casinos into the state and expanding horse racing, which he believes will pump billions into the state economy.

Harrison also wants to improve public education, and while he wants to end illegal immigration, he says hard-working illegal immigrants already here should get work permits so they can help pay for federal services they use, and should receive a path to citizenship over an eight or ten year period.

When asked how he plans to beat Governor Abbott, Harrison said, “The word is going to get out slowly, but surely, but don’t under-estimate the power of social media and don’t ever under-estimate a small businessman. I started from scratch my company and we’re a very successful company. Not any different than politics.”

Harrison acknowledged he will also need money to run a viable campaign.

The general election is more than a year away — November 6th, 2018.