David Dewhurst is the Mitt Romney of the U.S. Senate race.
The lieutenant governor is the guy waiting in line, the candidate who has climbed the ladder in an orderly way. If you go for this sort of thing — and the Republican Party often does — it’s his turn.
Dewhurst came into politics as a businessman who had made his fortune and wanted to get into the public arena. There was talk that he had looked at a run for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico. He has denied that in the years since, so let’s say that he showed an interest in running for office before he actually ran for office.
In his first appearance on the state ballot, for land commissioner, in 1998, Dewhurst got out of a Republican primary with 51.2 percent of the vote, beating Jerry Patterson and a lesser-known candidate named Don Loucks. Patterson, then a state senator, recovered — he’s now the land commissioner.
Dewhurst had looked at a run for lieutenant governor that year. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, was giving up the seat, and any number of politicians from both parties were sniffing around. Rick Perry, who was then agriculture commissioner, showed some interest and said he would run whether or not anyone else got in. Anyone else didn’t: Perry ran unopposed for the Republican nomination and squeaked into office in the 1998 general election.
Four years later, Perry had moved into George W. Bush’s job, and Dewhurst was the guy running for the second spot. He won an easy primary and a tough general election and has held that job ever since, coasting through two re-election campaigns.
Now he has declared for the Senate. Two candidates got a look and scurried into other races: Roger Williams and Michael Williams — they’re not related — are running for Congress, in separate districts. Others failed to quail, including former Mayor Tom Leppert of Dallas, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz and current Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones. They and others in the race spend a fair amount of time complaining that Dewhurst isn’t showing up for candidate forums and debating with them.
He has good reasons for that. One, he’s the front-runner, and there’s no reason to elevate the status of the others by sharing the stage with them this long before the election. Nothing good can happen there. The filing deadline for the office doesn’t come until Dec. 12, and some of the remaining candidates might decide on another occupation before then.
And then there's the part of Dewhurst that’s like Romney. Both entered their races as presumptive front-runners. Neither is the sort of guy who’d be at the barbecue at 4 in the morning starting the fire and working on the briskets and ribs. They’re business aristocrats. Swells. And while both have been successful in politics and in business, they seem to share an awkwardness in public that you wouldn’t expect from glad-handing politicians.
Dewhurst is likable enough, but he’s not exactly Elvis Presley. This isn’t a charisma play. He’s always put together, usually in a suit. In his ads, when he’s on his horse (he’s an accomplished cutting horse rider) or in a family shot, he still manages to look like he just stepped out of a catalog.
There is a political conspiracy theory in Austin that his heart isn’t in the race, particularly with Perry running for president. Dewhurst is next in line if the governor’s chair opens, just as Perry was when Bush was elected. Sitting still could be a move up, and even if Perry doesn’t win, he might not run again in 2014. Dewhurst, along with Attorney General Greg Abbott, would be a leading contender.
Don’t buy it: Dewhurst has more options than you might think. He could win the election next year and become a senator. Or he might lose and remain the lieutenant governor. A victory by Perry could move him up to the state’s top job.
With options like that, who needs a common touch?