HOUSTON -- The gloves have come off in the race for lieutenant governor with a hard-hitting attack ad against State Sen. Dan Patrick.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, whose supporters were stunned by Patrick s tea party fueled 13-point lead over the incumbent in last month s primary, is blitzing television airwaves with a spot highlighting embarrassing financial problems from Patrick s past.

The ad recounts details from Patrick s personal bankruptcy case in the 1980 s, a decade in which his fortunes as a sportscaster and a bar owner rose and fell along with the state s economy. It also features debate footage in which a reporter recounts how Patrick hasn t repaid creditors from his 1980s bankruptcy case, even after he became wealthy enough to help bankroll his own political campaigns.

David Dewhurst decides to launch a negative campaign during Holy Week, six weeks before the election, said Allen Blakemore, Patrick s senior campaign strategist. And where does he go? Straight to the gutter.

The Patrick campaign also released a written rebuttal highlighting Dewhurst s own financial travails.

Bankruptcy is a process that Dan Patrick has used, that David Dewhurst has used as well, Blakemore said. And it s whereby debts are discharged. We go through a court process and that s the way it works.

Dewhurst s candidacy is widely considered such a long shot; he faced pressure to take his name off the ballot for the runoff. Although he was a well-financed incumbent, he fell far behind Patrick in a four candidate race.

Simple math would indicate that if Patrick picks up even a third of the voters who cast ballots for the other two candidates, he wins. Of course, elections are never just simple math. But the runoff is scheduled for May 27, the day after Memorial Day, so turnout is expected to be especially low, a factor widely expected to play into Patrick s hands.

He s in a race where his base is not coming back, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. His base was never there to begin with. Now what he s trying to do is excite people to show up in an election that very few people will show up for.

Stein believes Dewhurst had little choice but to launch a negative campaign questioning Patrick s character and qualifications.

It just seems like the only thing he seems to have, you know, in his quiver, Stein said. It s the only arrow he thinks he can shoot. He can t become more conservative than Dan Patrick on immigration, affordable health care, abortion.

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