HOUSTON (AP) — Firebrand conservative radio talk show host and Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick pushed incumbent David Dewhurst into a runoff for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor on 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.
Those two emerged from a heated four-way campaign with state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
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.
The Patrick-Dewhurst winner will face Democratic nominee state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio in November.
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 eventually return to the private sector to earn some of that money 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 on 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.
But Patrick attacked Dewhurst as too moderate, noting he had appointed several Democrats as Senate committee chairs. 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.
Patrick has been dogged late in the campaign by allegations — raised by Patterson’s campaign — that he knowingly employed immigrants in the country illegally at Houston-area sports bars he owned in the 1980s, which he denies.
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.
“I feel sorry for Texans because they won’t have the best choice to make,” Staples said. “But it really is all about what we’re going to do in the fall between moving forward with a pro business, pro jobs, pro opportunity agenda verses a pro bigger government, pro spending and pro taxing.”
As agriculture commissioner, Staples used the office to focus on border security. As a state senator in 2005, he authored the state’s ban on gay marriage, which a federal judge ruled last week is unconstitutional.
“My campaign continues,” Patterson said. “Voters are going to have the choice of one of two gentlemen in the race I intend to be involved in that choice.
“Not sure what we’re going to do, but Texas is too important to me to bail out,” Patterson said about his future.
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