AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The cutthroat lieutenant governor's race may well come down to who, in a crowded field of accomplished conservatives, can move furthest to the right. If that's the case, state Sen. Dan Patrick says he'll cruise to victory.
"I'm clearly the most conservative candidate," Patrick, a radio talk-show host from Houston who founded the Tea Party Caucus in the Texas Legislature, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "There's no comparison."
His opponents, of course, beg to differ.
Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — who is seeking re-election only after now-Sen. Ted Cruz upset him in last year's GOP primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — argues he's helped spearhead some of the most conservative legislation the state has ever known.
And the other two Republicans trying to unseat Dewhurst say they, too, have impeccable conservative credentials: Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson authored Texas' concealed-carry firearms law while serving in the state Senate, and Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples says he's built a network of strong tea party support.
If no Republican wins a majority in the March primary, there will be a runoff election between the top-two finishers two months later.
Born Dannie Scott Goeb, the state senator began using Dan Patrick while working as a sportscaster in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. He legally changed his name in 2003.
In office since 2007, Patrick says his record in the Legislature proves his core beliefs are conservative enough to energize grassroots activists who helped propel Cruz to his once seemingly unlikely 2012 victory.
Even though Democrats hold 12 of the Texas Senate's 31 seats, Patrick has threatened to break with tradition and deny minority-party members a chance to lead any of the chamber's committees.
"The idea that a third of our committees have to be Democratic is not something I believe in," Patrick said.
Patrick has helped lead other conservative crusades, such as displaying "In God We Trust" in the Senate Chamber and championing a successful constitutional amendment that inserted "under God" into words of the pledge to the Texas flag.
But he's best-known for heading the powerful Senate Education Committee during this year's legislative session.
A born-again Baptist, Patrick says he's happy to embrace the role of "education evangelist." Under his watch, lawmakers approved the largest expansion of charter schools statewide since 2001, increasing the cap on the number of charter licenses issued from 215 to 305 by 2019.
However, his championing of school vouchers — ambitious proposals to let families use public money to remove kids from struggling public schools and send them to private or religious ones — fizzled.
"We came up a few votes short of passing school choice and I had zero help from leadership," Patrick said, swiping at Dewhurst. The lieutenant governor oversees the flow of legislation in the Senate.
A guitar and piano player who often answers constituents' emails in the wee hours of the morning, Patrick titled his memoir, "The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read: A Personal Challenge to Read the Bible."
Patrick is the majority owner of both the Houston radio station that airs his afternoon show and of a Dallas station.
Critics say he brings the same abrasive style that made him a successful on-air personality to his committee meetings.
"If you're with him, it's all hearts and flowers, but if you don't agree with him he bullies and degrades you," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, which monitors public education policy from a progressive prospective. "Once a radio shock-jock always a radio shock-jock."
Even allies of Patrick, one of the Legislature's most polarizing presences, marvel at his ability to move from passive and calm to emotionally teary-eyed to standoffish and back again in virtually no time.
But Patrick will admit a change of heart when it comes to Texas' firebrand in Washington, Cruz.
Last year, Patrick said he was voting for Dewhurst in the GOP Senate primary and traded barbs with Cruz on his radio show. That support helped prompt Dewhurst to pick Patrick to head the Education Committee.
Patrick has since said, however, that he'd support a Cruz if he runs for president in 2016. And he's turned on Dewhurst.
"He made a decision last election he didn't want to be lieutenant governor anymore and now he wants to be lieutenant governor again," Patrick said. "He appears to be someone who just wants to hold office as opposed to someone who has a vision of what he wants to do."