Lt. Governor Race
1:07 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

The Contradictory Message David Dewhurst Needs to Beat Dan Patrick

Texas is about five weeks away from several runoff elections that will set the final ballot for November. That includes the hard fought Lieutenant Governor's race between incumbent David Dewhurst, who's held the office since 2003, and state Sen. Dan Patrick

From the very beginning, this was a race about who was the most conservative candidate. So when Sen. Patrick launched his campaign last year, his first move was to paint himself as the conservative standard-bearer – while putting Lt. Governor Dewhurst's own conservative credentials in doubt.

Being labeled a moderate killed Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate campaign against now Sen. Ted Cruz. So as he took fresh fire from Patrick and the rest of the field, Dewhurst tried once again to establish his credentials.

"I'm a proven conservative leader," Dewhurst said in a candidate forum last year.

"If I wasn't a proven conservative leader our economy, and yours, would look like California. And we're growing eight and a half times faster, stronger than they are." 

The results appear to show Dewhurst's message didn't resonate with the GOP's ultra-conservative primary voting bloc. On primary day, Patrick got 41 percent of the vote, Dewhurst only 28 percent.

"I think at this stage David Dewhurst needs a political miracle to win," Rice University Political Science Department Chair Mark Jones says.

Jones said there's no time left for Dewhurst to define himself with voters. At this point they either think he is or isn't conservative enough. And that leaves really only one strategy: tearing down Patrick.

Dewhurst launched a missive at Patrick last week, releasing a TV ad questioning several of his opponent's business dealings, including a bankruptcy filing.

Rice's Jones believes Dewhurst's best chance to pull off that political miracle includes pushing a contradictory message to two opposing sides of the Republican party.

"He's trying to convince the movement conservatives that Dan Patrick is insufficiently conservative. And he's trying to convince the moderates that Dan Patrick is too conservative," Jones said.

Jones says Dewhurst's best chance to pull off that political miracle is to push separate messages to separate sides of the Republican party.

"He's trying to convince the movement conservatives that Dan Patrick is insufficiently conservative," Jones says. "And he's trying to convince the moderates that Dan Patrick is too conservative."

Patrick has drawn criticism from some Hispanic Republicans for his language on undocumented immigrants. Business groups have also shied away from Patrick, with many endorsing Dewhurst in the primary.

But that may be changing: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a political action committee backed by pro-business groups, recently switched its endorsement from Dewhurst to Patrick.