Dewhurst and Patrick face off today in a roundtable debate

05/06/2014 4:13 PM

05/07/2014 8:57 AM

Some Texans may have been caught off guard when state Sen. Dan Patrick came out on top of a four-way race for lieutenant governor — significantly ahead of incumbent David Dewhurst — in the March primary.

But not Tea Party members in Tarrant County, who have helped push a number of Republican candidates to victory.

“It was not surprising that Dan Patrick came in first — and by such a wide margin — in the primary election,” said Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarant Tea Party. “Dewhurst has been given chance after chance to prove himself, and he keeps falling short.”

Some Republicans disagree, saying Dewhurst has done well in the 11 years he has held the office and should serve another term.

“He’s the proven candidate and he works well with people,” said Kyleen Wright, a Mansfield woman and president of Texans for Life. “He does have a great record of success. I think it goes back to the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

These two Republicans will square off once again today in their ongoing battle for one of the state’s most powerful posts. At 10:30 a.m., they will participate in a 45-minute roundtable debate produced at WFAA/Channel 8 TV’s Dallas studio that will be streamed on websites including star-telegram.com and WFAA.com.

This is one of the few times the two have interacted since the March GOP primary, in which Patrick, a Houston Republican and radio talk show host, took a powerful lead over Dewhurst, a multimillionaire businessman, in a contentious, four-way lieutenant governor’s race.

The winner of the Republican runoff in this race will face San Antonio pharmacist, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat, in November’s general election.

This is one of a dozen races that will be decided in the May 27 primary runoff election.

Deja-vu?

In March, Patrick claimed 41 percent of the vote to 28 percent for Dewhurst. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson together shared about 30 percent of the vote.

For many, this high-profile race boils down to establishment Republicans versus grassroots Tea Party members — as did the 2012 race for the U.S. Senate between political newcomer Ted Cruz and Dewhurst, who has held the second-highest post in the state since 2003. Cruz won that primary runoff and went on to win the general election as well.

“Dan Patrick has spent years building relationships with the Tea Party,” McCarty said. “It wasn’t an effort he made only when he decided to run for statewide office. He also has high scores from conservative watchdog groups.

“We don’t know the various votes and decisions he’ll be faced with in office, but we can judge from his voting record that we can trust him to represent us.”

Wright said this election is not the same as the one in 2012. And she said a number of Tea Party groups in Texas have come out in support of Dewhurst.

Among them are members of the Hood County Tea Party, Clear Lake Tea Party, Longview Tea Party, San Antonio Tea Party, Montgomery Tea Party, Waco Tea Party, Texas Tea Party, Battleground Tea Party and more, according to Dewhurst’s website.

“It’s very different now,” Wright said. “Cruz had very little record. Dan Patrick has a record. And he’s not Ted Cruz.”

Best approach?

Since the U.S. Senate loss in 2012, Dewhurst, who was cast as too moderate for the party, has pushed for more conservative measures in the Senate, including additional restrictions and bans against abortion. He has said, win or lose, that this likely will be his last run for public office.

While Dewhurst is the incumbent, he’s also seen by some in this race as the underdog. More than 70 percent of Republicans who cast ballots in March chose someone else for this position.

Patrick, a staunch conservative who is very vocal about his Christian faith, has spoken out against Dewhurst, who tapped him to lead the powerful Senate public education committee. He has asked Dewhurst to no longer appoint Democrats to head committees and has talked about wanting to change the so-called two-thirds rule, which would let Republicans move forward with legislative measures without any Democratic support.

At the same time, Dewhurst has attacked Patrick through statewide ads over his past — employing undocumented immigrants in Houston in the 1980s, filing for bankruptcy in the 1980s and walking away from more than $800,000 in debt through the bankruptcy. He also is going after Patrick for changing his name from Dannie Goeb to Dan Patrick to run for political office.

McCarty said Dewhurst hasn’t been the leader he should have been.

“He hardly even participated in the legislative session last year,” she said. “And then when he finally showed up, he flubbed up the pro-life bill and gave Wendy Davis a national stage.”

Wright maintains that Dewhurst is the right man for the job.

“In Texas, we have really managed to avoid the Washington gridlock, regardless to what party is in power,” she said. “We have been able to work across the aisle and do what’s best for Texas. It’s very clear that [Lt.] Gov. Dewhurst, in keeping with that, has been successful.”

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