The Republican race for lieutenant governor in Texas was vicious even before incumbent David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick advanced to a May 27 run-off. As early voting begins in that race — and Dewhurst, the incumbent, struggles to make up ground against his opponent — it's gotten worse. Way worse. Like making-depression-and-hospitalization-an-issue bad.
But while this is the dream scenario for Democrats — Republicans wounding each other badly before a November runoff — it still probably won't be enough for the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, to make up the difference.
Before we look at the numbers, let's look at the drama. The most recent development was the release of documents by Dewhurst supporter and Texas land commissioner Jerry Patterson showing that Patrick was hospitalized for depression in the 1980s, as Houston's KPRC reports. Dewhurst's campaign disavowed knowledge of the leak, saying that the candidate's "heart goes out to Dan Patrick and his family for what they've endured" from it. (Patrick acknowledges the hospitalization, saying it was in response to exhaustion and depression.) Patrick was also the target of attacks from Patterson shortly after the primary, in which Patterson came in fourth. Earlier this month, Patterson demanded that Patrick explain why he didn't serve in Vietnam and, in the words of the Dallas Morning News's Robert Garrett, "stopped just short of calling Patrick, a tea party favorite and conservative Houston radio talk-show host, a pathological liar."
Dewhurst's heart has not gone out to Patrick on many other issues. Earlier this month, the two fought over a Dewhurst ad showing Patrick without a shirt on and over Dewhurst's 1982 bankruptcy stemming from an oil drilling business. And then there was the "Frozen"-themed back-and-forth, in which Dewhurst mocked Patrick for having changed his name and his past as a radio host. Patrick responded with a series of animated images from the movie mocking Dewhurst.
In the primary, Patrick won handily, leading Dewhurst by 13 points, but he fell short of the 50 percent he would have needed to advance to the November general election against the Democrat, Van de Putte. So she gets to sit back and watch Patrick and Dewhurst tear into each other for several more weeks before the campaign begins in earnest.
Van de Putte has a key advantage, particularly against Patrick: She is a Latina candidate in a state with high Latino registration. In a San Antonio Express-News article in March, Democrats said flatly that they preferred Patrick as an opponent.
His campaign ads include stern warnings about an “invasion” from Mexico, and he vehemently opposes “amnesty” for anyone who entered the country illegally. In a previous Texas Senate campaign, Patrick warned that undocumented immigrants brought such communicable diseases as leprosy with them — an unsubstantiated claim.
The problem for Van de Putte lies in the numbers, not the opponent — whoever that may be (and most sharp analysts believe it will be Patrick.) In polling conducted before the primary, the Texas Tribune found that Van de Putte trailed Dewhurst by 12 points and Patrick by 9. Regardless of who wins the runoff, those are substantial margins.
In 2010, the last midterm election in the state, Dewhurst beat former AFL-CIO honcho Linda Chavez-Thompson by 1.3 million votes, a 27-point margin. According to Politifact, Dewhurst garnered about 40 percent of the Latino vote, a higher margin than Patrick is likely to expect. But even if Patrick defeats Dewhurst in the runoff and only garners 10 percent of the Latino vote, it's hard to see how that would make a huge difference for Van de Putte. About 18 percent of the electorate was Latino in 2010, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. If that percentage applies to the lieutenant governor race (after down-ballot voting drop-off), it means that Dewhurst got about 350,000 votes from Latino voters. Even if he got none of those votes, he'd still have won by a million.
Republicans nationally have been repeatedly stymied after staunch conservatives leveraged a more-conservative primary electorate to face a moderate Democrat in a general election. (Senate races in 2012 in Indiana and Missouri jump to mind.) That could still happen to Patrick, should he win the May 27 runoff. But the more likely prospect at this point seems to be that Patrick wins in May and again in November, scooping up Republican votes in a Republican state in a Republican election cycle. After all, if Van de Putte's plan included going negative, it seems hard to believe much new information could be dug up.