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Mike Collier is willing to bet Texas voters know his name.
In fact, he’s confident that when he last ran for lieutenant governor three years ago and came within 5 percentage points of winning, it was because most of the 3.8 million Texans who checked his name were voting in support of his candidacy, and not just against Republican incumbent Dan Patrick during a watershed year for Democrats.
“They’ll only do that if they like the candidate they’re voting for,” Collier said. “Yes, a lot of people voted against Dan Patrick but they’re not going to vote for just anybody. They looked and they [said], ‘I don’t like Dan Patrick, he’s bad for the state. I like Mike Collier, I think he’s good for the state.’”
His evidence? In two-thirds of Texas counties, he outperformed Beto O’Rourke, who led the top of the ticket in 2018 against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and sparked a flurry of excitement among Democrats that year.
But several other statewide Democratic candidates with little name recognition and no real campaign funding also outperformed expectations against their GOP counterparts that year, largely on O’Rourke’s coattails. Collier wasn’t even the party’s second-highest vote-getter statewide. That was Justin Nelson, who came within 295,000 votes of unseating Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Collier, a 60-year-old accountant and auditor from the Houston area, will have his chance to prove his bonafides next year after announcing earlier this month that he is officially running for a rematch against Patrick.
“I came very close to beating Dan Patrick. I came within 4.8 points,” he said. “And I decided that looking at the numbers, that I can beat him.”
But first, he’ll have to get past Matthew Dowd, a former George W. Bush strategist turned Democrat, and any other candidate that joins the race in a Democratic primary. Collier said he looks forward to the contest.
“My strategy is to keep talking to every Texan and have a much better team, much more money and a network of surrogates and friends and volunteers and champions and validators all over the state,” he said. “I think I win the primary.”
Two former Republicans
Collier’s knocks on Patrick are many. He fuels the culture wars, he’s an impediment to better health care for Texans, he’s not focused on funding public schools, he’s let property taxes remain high despite touting reform and, perhaps most importantly to Collier, he didn’t address the failures that left millions of Texans without power when the state’s electric grid failed in February.
“What Texans want is a lieutenant governor who will solve problems,” Collier said. “You can’t get Dan Patrick to work on the real problems to save his life and he is a hyperpartisan.”
Patrick’s campaign declined comment. This year, Patrick, who presides over the Senate, pressured officials at the Public Utilities Commission to reverse $16 billion in electricity charges racked up during the winter storms. He pushed through legislation in the Senate toward that end, but the proposal died in the House.
He has also called reducing property taxes his No. 1 priority, but Collier says Patrick’s approach isn’t working.
Collier said if he won, public education would be his priority. In close second, he’d focus on “fixing the damn grid,” which has become a campaign motto.
He also would focus on expanding Medicaid in Texas and controlling the increase of property taxes.
But this time, Collier has a formidable primary challenge in Dowd, the former Bush strategist.
Dowd, a 60-year-old Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat who split with Bush in 2007 over his handling of the Iraq War, may benefit from people recognizing him from TV appearances on ABC News, where he’s worked as a policy analyst and appeared on shows like “Nightline” and “Good Morning America.”
When Dowd jumped into the race, Collier’s camp took a jab at his GOP past, welcoming him back to the Democratic party “after 20 years working to elect Republicans across the country.”
Collier, however, also identified as a Republican before running for office and twice voted against President Barack Obama. The difference, his team said, is that Collier has since worked to elect Democrats in the state, including President Joe Biden.
“Mike Collier was Senior Advisor to President Joe Biden who has delivered millions of vaccines, ended a two-decade war, and restored America’s standing on the global stage,” deputy campaign manager Ali S. Zaidi, said in a statement. “In contrast, Matthew Dowd was Chief Advisor for George W. Bush who started two wars, tanked the global economy, and appointed the deciding Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Collier has worked over the past decade to build the Texas Democratic Party, and Democrats will have a clear choice in 2022.”
Dowd pledged not to attack Collier or any other Democrat who jumps in the race.
“Our campaign is focused on the cruel Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and restoring common sense with common decency for the common good,” Dowd said.
Collier said he’s confident that his own track record with Democratic voters will resonate in a primary. He’s spent eight years campaigning for Democrats up and down the state, he said, and he’s got the miles on two run-down trucks to prove it.
“I always knew that when we got close — and we’re very close — that there would be candidates trying to sail in to see if they could land it,” he said. “So a primary is not a surprise. That doesn’t change my strategy.”
David Thomason, a political scientist at St. Edward’s University, said the Democratic primary could be a good test of whose approach resonates best with voters.
“The 3.8 million is not a support of Mike Collier as much as it is a protest or distance from Dan Patrick,” Thomason said. “In order for him to elevate his status as a legitimate candidate, he’s gotta give voters something to get motivated for him rather than just being against Dan Patrick.”
In him, Collier said, voters would find the opposite of Patrick: a self-described “numbers guy” who’s focused on the big picture rather than partisan politics.
“Solving problems and dealing with complexity — bringing people together is what I do as a consultant in the business world,” said Collier, who was a top partner at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Collier said he’ll need Democrats to turn out in a major way to win in 2022. But he also believes he can win over independents and Republicans because the majority of Texans want the government to focus on the issues he’s pushing.
“Our point of view, as Democrats, is the majority point of view in the state,” he said. “There’ll be a whole lot of folks that will come that don’t consider themselves Democrats, but they’ll hear the message and they’ll come across and they’ll vote for me, just as they did in 2018.”
Collier is confident because he was able to engage Democrats, as well as Republicans and independents, during his last election. He did so by campaigning in areas of the state where Democrats don’t typically go.
“He is out here frequently,” said Jon Mark Hogg, founder of the 134 PAC which aims to build Democratic power in rural counties to the west of I-35. “He’s become a friend and trusted counselor and resonates with people in rural Texas. I don’t know if that’s because he’s more of a moderate or his personality, but people respond to him.”
But Collier will also have to win big in urban areas of the state where the population is more diverse and the cost of campaigning is much higher. There, he’ll have to win over Black and Latino voters with whom his name recognition is low.
“If you’re running for statewide office you need to have a statewide strategy and that means you have to be present,” said Jeronimo Cortina, a University of Houston political scientist who studies the Latino vote. “Latinos are not going to vote for a Democrat just because he or she is a Democrat. [Candidates] need to go and engage Latino voters, go and meet with them, talk to them, listen to them and have answers.”
Collier is spending most of October on a 30-day tour that will hit all the major regions of the state. Collier is convinced that more resources, a much better team and a much higher name recognition will help him get over the top in this campaign.
He’s also hoping for some help from O’Rourke, who Collier said he would like to see run for governor.
“I did better than he did in rural Texas. He did better than I did in urban Texas,” Collier said. “If we compare notes … if we get each of the other's numbers, we win.”
Disclosure: University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.