September 19, 2013
By Scott Braddock

Some challenge the conventional wisdom that Dan Patrick walks away with his home county

As this campaign season begins to truly ramp up, it’s already been said that Houston may be ground zero for the Lite Guv race. That’s primarily because three of the combatants,  er candidates, are from Harris County and about a fifth of Texas Republican primary voters live there as well.

Conversations with longtime observers of Houston politics and GOP activists in the Bayou City reveal that Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, might not have to work nearly as hard to win there if he had not been so adamantly against Ted Cruz during the US Senate race last year. While he now voices full-throated support for the Tea Party darling, Patrick offered the same kind of support for David Dewhurst last year, the very man he wishes now to replace as Lt. Governor. Dewhurst and his supporters would like to exploit that alleged flip-flop, as would the other two candidates: Ag Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

The dynamics in the race were on full display when the four vying for the job met for their first debate in Houston earlier this week, said Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill. He and others agree the candidate with the most work to do in Houston is Staples. “The other three are from here,” Woodfill said. “There really are a lot of people who just don’t know Todd that well,” he said, adding that Staples seemed to be well-received by those in attendance.

Woodfill said if he had to handicap Harris County right now, Dewhurst and Patrick would come in first and second – but maybe not in that order – with Patterson and Staples fighting over who’s third and fourth. One huge reason for Patrick’s potential success in Houston isn’t so much his radio show. Instead it’s that his senate district, SD 7, is almost unrivaled in the entire state in its number of GOP primary voters. “That is without question our most reliable area. Those are our fortress precincts,” Woodfill said.

Former County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland said the conventional wisdom in Austin political circles that suggests Patrick walks away with Harris County may be unfounded. “I think the voters are open to all these guys,” Polland said, pointing to that forum held in Houston. “They’re all conservative, at the end of the day.” He and other Houston political observers who talked to QR on Wednesday acknowledged that while Sen. Patrick does not have a large radio audience – the station he owns, KSEV, does not appear in ratings that the radio industry watches closely – he does have the right listeners to potentially help him greatly in a primary battle.

Polland also said some of the criticism of Dewhurst’s leadership in the Senate, specifically about how he handled the Wendy Davis abortion bill filibuster, comes across as “inside baseball” even to many GOP primary voters. “Who cares? The bill eventually passed,” he said.

Even though that crazy meltdown of a night when the whole world seemed to be watching the Texas Senate catapultedDavis to a place where she’s able to raise more money and potentially make a credible statewide run, Polland said the larger point is that she’s unlikely to win in a state where no Democrat has won in decades. “If she runs this time and she gets beat then they’ve used her up,” he said. That means Dewhurst, perhaps ironically, could take credit for making Davis a star too soon for her to truly take advantage of that status.

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