Monday is the first day of early voting in the primary runoff for the Republican nomination in a number of statewide races. Those include attorney general, agriculture commissioner, railroad commissioner, and lieutenant governor – one of the most powerful offices in Texas.
Whoever wins the May 27th runoff between current Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and his challenger, Houston-area State Senator Dan Patrick, will go on to face San Antonio Democratic State Senator Leticia Van de Putte in November.
Primary runoff elections don’t attract a lot of voters. Typically, about half the voters who turned out for the first round don’t bother showing up a second time. Jon Taylor, the chair of the political science department at the University of St. Thomas, says the GOP Lt. Governor runoff will probably fit that pattern.
“Statewide, we’ll be lucky to see five, ten percent, tops. Harris County? I’d be really surprised if we saw more than 10-15 percent turnout, even though Patrick and Dewhurst are both from Harris County,” Taylor said.
In the March primary, Patrick earned more votes than Dewhurst. The most ideologically dedicated voters are the ones who will decide this runoff, and that's why he expects Patrick to win.
“Even with all the money Dewhurst has, there just seems to be something there that suggests Dewhurst doesn’t have it anymore. He’s just kind of lost it in that respect. There’s no energy. The energy he has had has been extraordinarily negative, and he's had a backlash as a result. (I) just can’t see Dewhurst surviving this one,” Taylor said.
Dewhurst’s detractors say he failed to control last year’s Senate debate on the abortion bill. They blame him for allowing the filibuster that gave Democrat Wendy Davis the political stardom to become a candidate for governor. The primary between Dewhurst and Patrick will be decided more on personality than on policy.
“They’re both talking bluster regarding the border, regarding illegal immigration, in terms of taxes. Neither one of them are for raising taxes. They’re for, basically, reducing the tax burden on taxpayers. They’re basically quibbling over semantics as much as anything else,” Taylor said.
Taylor says if Dewhurst faces Leticia Van de Putte in the November general election, he’ll likely concentrate on winning over disaffected Republicans by spending his energy and sizable campaign fund on advertisements, rather than meet-and-greets. As for Patrick, “He’s not going to have as much money, necessarily, as Dewhurst, which means it’s going to be a little bit more ‘retail’. Which is where there’s a little bit more of a similarity between him and Van de Putte. So you’re going to see a lot more campaign stops. You’re going to see a lot more, again, retail politics. But he’s going to be much more ‘red meat,'” Taylor said.
Taylor says Van de Putte could appeal to moderates on issues like education and by sharing her personal story.
“She can claim she’s a small business person. She understands business concerns just as much as Dan Patrick does. Her background in terms of (coming) from modest roots to become a Lt. Governor candidate and state Senator — she can play that story," Taylor said.
With all the talk of shifting voter demographics in Texas, Taylor believes we’re still about eight to twelve years from a Democrat winning a statewide office — something that hasn’t happened since the early 1990s. Early voting for the primary runoff ends on Friday, May 23. Election Day is Tuesday, May 27.