Bud Kennedy

March 4, 2014

Dewhurst’s slump is two years in the making, but is Patrick a risk?

The Houston state senator and talk-show host is a much more strident conservative up against the Democratic ticket.

All along, we thought Texas Republicans were worried about illegal immigrants.

Turns out they were really hunting establishment incumbents.

The party’s split personality was on full display Tuesday night: Voters favored a border hawk for the ticket on the same day Greg Abbott told Hispanics, “ It’s OK to be a Republican.”

According to Abbott, Republicans “really do stand for what the Hispanic community really believes in.”

If I hear Houston talk-show entertainer and state Sen. Dan Patrick right, that includes more enforcement to send or keep foreign parents and relatives out of Texas.

Patrick’s surge past Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst going into a May 27 runoff was the biggest surprise of the night, but Dewhurst was not the only Austin establishment incumbent targeted for punishment over the way Republicans have governed Texas for the last 14 years.

“The Bush family’s old party center has been rejected by the current Republican Party,” said TCU political science professor Jim Riddlesperger.

“Ten years ago, the Bushes and [U.S. Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison couldn’t be beaten. Now, it would be impossible for anyone perceived as moderate to win.”

Dewhurst ran a recycled Rick Perry campaign about Texas’ business success, but couldn’t muster Perry’s spirit or support.

Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, writing from Patrick’s hometown of Houston, warned both Dewhurst and his supporters in the Texas business community.

They “have their work cut out for them over the next dozen weeks,” Jones wrote.

Riddlesperger said Dewhurst’s biggest problem was the hangover from his loss to Ted Cruz in a midsummer 2012 runoff for U.S. Senate.

“I think that race was probably his high-water mark and voters feel like it’s time to move on,” Riddlesperger said.

If they move on with Patrick, they’ll move on with a built-in danger for the party ticket in the fall, even though Patrick would argue that a larger Republican turnout can overcome lost moderate voters.

Abbott launched his campaign in San Antonio and obviously plans to appeal to Hispanic voters, talking about how his wife, Cecilia, the daughter of Lucy Segura Phalen of San Antonio, will be the first Latina first lady.

When a Lubbock City Council member accused him of stereotyping and practicing “piñata politics,” Abbott responded Tuesday on a Lubbock radio show.

“Hispanics have awakened to the reality that the Democrat party really doesn’t represent them, their future or their needs,” he said.

Hispanic voters can now awaken to the idea of a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

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