HOUSTON—A day after a stunning political showing that could shake the foundations of power in Texas government, State Sen. Dan Patrick says he believes there’s no way he can lose his campaign for lieutenant governor.
Patrick, who polls indicated would finish his race in second place, vaulted past incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst by 13 percentage points in the Republican primary and instantly became the front running candidate in what’s arguably the most powerful position in Texas government.
“We expected to win, but fourteen points?” Patrick said. “No. I have to be honest and say, no, that was a bit of a surprise.”
(Patrick apparently referred to earlier returns showing him ahead by 14 percent. The final tally actually showed him a little more than 13 points ahead.)
Dewhurst, sharply criticized by his party’s most conservative supporters and proven vulnerable by his 2012 loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, was widely expected to face a runoff against one of his three challengers. Political analysts generally cast the primary as a contest between three ambitious Republican challengers competing for a second place finish and a runoff against the well-financed incumbent.
But Patrick defied expectations, winning 41 percent of the primary vote compared to Dewhurst’s 28 percent. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples trailed into third place with 18 percent and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson finished fourth with 12 percent.
Dewhurst appeared stunned when he spoke before a small crowd at his Houston victory party, but he tried to put a game face on the results.
“I want to make an announcement,” Dewhurst said. “This race is going into overtime and we’re going to win it.”
The simple math looks grim for Dewhurst. If Patrick picks up only one-third of the voters who backed Staples and Patterson, he wins the runoff. And the very fact they voted for one of the challengers indicates those Republicans have already decided they don’t like the incumbent Dewhurst.
“It would require an enormous turnout,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. “He would have to mobilize new voters. And we have a history with David Dewhurst. His voters don’t seem to come back. The next election will be May 27th. That’s Memorial Day weekend.”
Patrick’s campaign aides said their polling indicated that voters began to break for their candidate around the time his opponents launched their fiercest negative campaign commercials, which blasted him as a fake conservative and a hypocrite who once owned a business employing illegal aliens.
“One thing happens always,” Patrick said. “When all three opponents attack one person, people say, ‘That must be the guy who’s ahead, let’s take a look at him.’ And when they looked at our record, I think they liked what they saw.”
Whoever wins the Republican runoff will face Democratic State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee, in the November general election. But the state remains predominantly Republican, giving the GOP candidate the distinct advantage.
Already, Patrick said, he’s fielding phone calls from people in power talking about what might happen after he assumes office.
“I keep all those conversations quiet,” he said. “Let’s just say we’ve gotten calls from people who recognize there’s a strong likelihood of new leadership.”