Firebrand conservative radio talk show host and state Sen. Dan Patrick pushed incumbent David Dewhurst into a runoff for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor Tuesday, threatening to oust Dewhurst from one of the state’s most powerful offices after 11 years.
Patrick, who has been part of Dewhurst’s Senate leadership team and one of his fiercest critics, made a run at nomination outright in a campaign that challenged Dewhurst’s credentials as a conservative and cast him as too moderate for the future of the party.
Patrick and Dewhurst emerged from a heated four-way campaign with state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
Texas Democrats, meanwhile, nominated state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor, sending the San Antonio pharmacist into the November general election to try to win back a seat held by Republicans since 1999.
Van de Putte has served in the Senate since 1999 and calls herself a pro-business and pro-veterans candidate.
She is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Military Installations. She left her father’s funeral last year to return to the Capitol to support Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster of abortion restrictions.
Van de Putte was unopposed for the nomination for lieutenant governor. If elected in November, she would be Texas’ first female and first Hispanic lieutenant governor.
In another statewide race attracting national attention, Fort Worth’s George P. Bush easily won the GOP primary for land commissioner.
Although he survives to fight on in the May 27 runoff, second place is a blow for Dewhurst, the multimillionaire businessman who lost to upstart and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz in the 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Dewhurst has said this will likely be his last campaign. He has spent more than $25 million from his personal fortune on various campaigns over the years and wants to return eventually to the private sector to earn some of it back.
Dewhurst hoped he could avoid a runoff similar to 2012. Dewhurst won the most votes in the first round two years ago, then lost when Cruz outflanked him to the right and turned out Tea Party voters to support him in the runoff.
Now Dewhurst finds himself cast as the underdog, and Patrick will likely try to follow the same conservative playbook Cruz used.
In his appeal to the right wing of the party, Patrick has declared himself a Christian first and conservative second while pegging his campaign on issues such as stopping illegal immigration.
Dewhurst blamed cold, icy weather across parts of the state Tuesday for keeping voters who would have supported him home and predicted better conditions May 27.
“This race is going into overtime,” Dewhurst told supporters, “and we’re going to win it.”
Dewhurst has tried to court the Tea Party voters who rejected him two years ago. He touted a conservative record that includes massive budget cuts, tighter restrictions on abortion, photo identification requirements for voters and restriction efforts that bolstered Republican majorities in the Legislature.
Patrick on attack
But Patrick attacked Dewhurst as too moderate, noting that he had appointed several Democrats to lead Senate committees. He also noted the 2013 abortion bill filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, a 13-hour spectacle in the Senate chamber.
Patrick said Dewhurst should have cut off Davis from what became her star-making moment for Texas Democrats. Davis won the Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday night and will challenge Republican nominee Greg Abbott in November.
A runoff is likely to raise the volume off attacks between Patrick and Dewhurst in the coming weeks.
Patterson and Staples finished well behind after struggling to push their campaigns in front of Dewhurst and Patrick. Patterson ran on a platform heavy on his record of expanding gun rights. As a state lawmaker in the 1990s, he authored the state’s concealed handgun license law.
Highlights of some of Tuesday’s other statewide primaries:
Yet another Bush may be rising among the ranks in Texas politics.
The 37-year-old son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush easily defeated businessman David Watts to secure the Republican nomination for Texas land commissioner Tuesday.
Bush’s mother, Columba, is from Mexico. His grandfather and uncle are former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, who also was a Texas governor.
George P. Bush, a Fort Worth attorney, has worked to tamp down lofty expectations. But the Texas GOP has touted him and his political royalty surname as a key to wooing Hispanic voters.
Bush becomes the overwhelming favorite in November against former El Paso Democratic Mayor John Cook.
He has raised a whopping $3.5-plus million – an unheard-of sum for the land commissioner, who administers state-owned lands and mineral resources.
Jim Hogan and Kinky Friedman will face each other in a Democratic runoff for Texas agriculture commissioner.
They received the most votes, but neither got more than 50 percent in the three-way race with Hugh Fitzsimmons.
Friedman, best-known as a singer and humorist, is making his third run for statewide office. He campaigned in favor of legalizing marijuana, hoping to attract younger voters.
Friedman angered many Democrats when he ran for governor as an independent in 2006, clearing the way for Republican Gov. Rick Perry to win with 39 percent of the vote.
Hogan is a Cleburne farmer who was considered a relative unknown in the race.
They beat out Fitzsimmons, considered the favorite among mainstream Democrats.