Tuesday's primary election brought sobering results for Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who finished second to primary challenger Dan Patrick and will compete with the Houston state senator in the May 27 runoff.
The longtime incumbent — who hovered below 30 percent of the vote as ballot counting continued into Wednesday morning — appeared likely to trail Patrick by at least a 10-point margin in final vote tallies.
"This race is going into overtime and we're going to win it," Dewhurst told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Houston. "We're in this fight, not just for ourselves, we're in this fight for you, your families, your state and for our nation."
While a runoff was expected in the four-way race, Patrick's showing was stronger than many observers anticipated. The win came after a steady stream of attacks from the other two candidates in the race, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and after reports emerged that Patrick had hired undocumented immigrants to work in a chain of sports restaurants he owned in the 1980s.
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Patrick also lagged behind his opponents in fundraising during the last month before the election. During that time, Dewhurst collected $1.4 million from donors, followed by Staples, who brought in about $650,000 from political supporters.
In a speech Tuesday night, Patrick attributed his win to grassroots support. "In 2006, I said my voice wasn’t going to the Texas Senate, the people’s voice was going to the Texas Senate. And tonight, the people’s voice took the first step of going to the lieutenant governor’s office in the state of Texas," Patrick said, recalling his first state Senate race in 2006, in which he soundly defeated two other establishment-backed candidates in the Republican primary.
Results early Wednesday indicated that Patrick was poised to win the vote in nearly every heavily populated area in the state, including Bexar, Tarrant, Collin, Montgomery, Harris and Dallas counties.
Low numbers could indicate particular trouble for an incumbent like Dewhurst, Luke Macias, a political consultant and adviser to movement conservatives in several legislative races, said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“If six out of every 10, seven out of every 10 voters walked into the polls saying, 'I’d like a new lieutenant governor' … they are a lot less likely to go back to the polls in May and say, 'Hey, he’s actually doing a good job,'” he said.
Despite his primary night success, Patrick’s path to victory in May is not without hurdles. He will need energetic fundraising to match the personal resources Dewhurst can put into his campaign. There could also be more of the attacks that surfaced near the end of the race.
“That becomes just the beginning. That was a late development in the campaign,” said Corbin Casteel, a Republican consultant. “That is something that we will hear a whole lot more of."
And though they went for a non-incumbent the first time around, supporters of Staples and Patterson may be reluctant to flock to Patrick, who has attracted intense criticism from both men.
Dewhurst made his first play for these freed-up voters on Tuesday night, delivering what he called a special message for those who chose Staples and Patterson.
"They both ran a good and tough race; you ought to be proud of them,” he said. “As you reflect on how they earned your vote, whether it was Todd or Jerry, I think you're going to discover that there's more that unites us, you and me, than divides us. So I'm going to work real hard to obtain your support, your trust, your vote, so that together we can keep Texas strong and great."