Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, abandoning a decision to stay out of legislative primaries, endorsed a half-dozen Republican senators for re-election on Friday.
Patrick, a Republican, said he changed his mind because he wants his incumbent senators back for another session.
The lieutenant governor left open the possibility of endorsing primary contestants in open seats. Two Republican senators — Kevin Eltife of Tyler and Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay — will not seek re-election, and spirited primaries to replace them are already underway. While he has not endorsed in either of those races, Patrick is headlining a couple of fundraisers for state Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, who is running for Eltife’s seat.
The lieutenant governor said earlier this year — in an on-stage post-session interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith — that he would stay out of contested legislative primaries, whether they were for open seats or challenges to incumbents.
“I have changed my mind. ... The truth is that these senators did an outstanding job and deserve re-election,” Patrick said Friday. “I need them back. I am going to endorse all of the Republican incumbents who are running.”
He said he's not playing defense — endorsing to stave off competition for those incumbents. But some conservative activists have questioned the effectiveness of the Republican Legislature, suggesting that some of its GOP members are moderates or liberals in disguise. Every Republican on the Senate side now has the lieutenant governor's seal of approval.
There are also eight incumbent Democrats entering the last year of their terms. Patrick says he’ll stay out of their contests: “I don’t get involved with the other party’s primary.”
Asked in that June interview whether he will get involved in House races, Patrick said, “of course not.” He repeated that on Friday.
He also said in June that he did not intend to endorse in competitive primaries for open seats. “I won’t do it. I have to work with senators. It’s the people’s Senate, and I respect the decision of the voters.”
“It’s not appropriate for the lieutenant governor to get into the middle of those races,” he said. Asked about incumbent senators facing challenges, Patrick dug in. “I am not getting involved in Senate primaries.”
He did say then, however, that he will be with his party’s nominees in November 2016. “In the general election, I’m all in with the Republicans,” Patrick said. “That’s a different deal.”
While Patrick said in that June interview he would stay out of legislative contests, he did say he plans to endorse in the presidential race sometime later this year.
“I will make a decision and most likely will help one at the right time. And that’s probably later in the fall. I want to go out and work for our nominee. My main concern is that we have a nominee who is either from Texas or loves Texas, and has Texas roots.”
He said then that there are some candidates for the Republican nomination that he could not support. “Oh, Donald Trump, if he gets in. And Chris Christie.”
He added he would support any Republican running against Hillary Clinton or another Democrat. But at that time, a few days after the legislative session ended, he had not publicly picked a favorite candidate for president.
Patrick said on Friday that he had changed his mind about endorsements after reflecting about the elections and sessions ahead.
“When you have a team that is functioning, you don’t needlessly change the starting lineup,” he said. “Those senators up for re-election this year did an outstanding job. They worked their tails off for the people of Texas, and for me. I want to let their voters know that they did outstanding jobs and deserve to be re-elected.”
The terms of 16 of the state’s 31 senators expire at the end of 2016. The six Republicans who appear headed for re-election bids are Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Charles Perry of Lubbock and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.