Four years ago Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t aggressively campaign, but squeaked out a 5-point victory against Houston-area Democrat Mike Collier.
Patrick, a Republican completing his second term, is going harder at it for this November’s rematch. Last week, without much fanfare, he embarked on a 131-stop bus tour through Texas. It signaled that Patrick is taking his reelection campaign more seriously than in 2018.
Patrick’s campaign aides haven’t released his bus tour schedule or discussed what type of events he’s staging. So far he appears to be riding around and inviting people to gawk at his red, white and blue bus. The news release and social media posts about the bus tour occurred after it had already started.
“It was a great beginning!” Patrick said in a news release. “Voters are engaged and excited about this 2022 election.”
A recent poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler has Patrick leading Collier, a Houston accountant, by 8 points.
“He’s trying to gin up turnout and enthusiasm in conservative areas,” said political consultant and lobbyist Bill Miller. “He’s doing it by saying, ‘we’re coming to you.’”
Miller added that Patrick was doing his political due diligence. Republicans have won every statewide contest since 1998, and they control all the levers of power in Texas government.
But the margins of victory, which seemed to crest in 2014 when Republican Gov. Greg Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, have decreased over the past few election cycles.
Though Republicans are favored to retain power in November, it would be risky to underestimate a rival. That’s especially true since Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for governor, raised nearly $30 million from Feb. 20 to June 30 for his challenge to Republican incumbent Greg Abbott.
“It’s fatal to take a campaign for granted, irrespective of your opponent or what the polls say,” Miller said. “That would be flirting with disaster.”
It will be interesting to see how Patrick handles the bus tour. He’s the most powerful player in the Texas Legislature. As president of the Senate, he sets the legislative agenda and has presided over the body with a force and intensity that beats most rivals into submission.
During the last legislative session he pushed through a slew of conservative priorities, ranging from “election security” measures to mollify former President Donald Trump, the banning of nearly all abortions in Texas, allowing Texans to carry a handgun without a permit, and pushing back against so-called social media censorship. There were also bills designed to fortify the state’s electric grid, though critics question whether the grid can withstand an extreme summer or winter event.
“While Democrats whine and carp, perpetuating the lie that it’s difficult to vote in Texas, I predict another record turnout,” Patrick said in a news release after his tour started at the Alamo in San Antonio.
But will Patrick hold events that encourage dialogue with voters? Right now it appears he’s enjoying the sights of a Texas road trip, while meeting invited people and random folks at the gas pump.
With Patrick so vital in pushing the direction of Texas policy and politics, a legitimate tour would give voters the opportunity to hear from and question the most formidable leader in Texas.
“If he’s actually leaving the house and leaving the Capitol and going out there, then there’s probably some polling that indicates he’s in trouble,” said Democratic consultant Colin Strother. “And I doubt that he would put himself in a town hall format, because they don’t want to answer questions about the Uvalde shooting or Roe v. Wade.”
Biden’s midterm pitch
President Joe Biden last week made his most forceful argument for voters to stick with him in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
“You have to choose,” the president told a crowd at a Rockville, Md., high school. “Will we be a country that moves forward or a county that moves backward?”
In his speech, Biden took a shot at the Republican Party dominated by Trump and described its ideology as “semi-fascism.”
“The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security,” he said. “They’re a threat to our very democracy.”
Biden is expected to tout his bipartisan victories on gun control, an infrastructure bill, curbing climate change, and reducing health care costs to voters, even as his party is expected to take heavy losses in the midterm elections.
Most analysts agree that Democrats are likely to lose control of the House, though the Senate still appears to be up for grabs.
But Biden’s recent successes are giving Democrats hope that they can avoid a midterm wipeout.
A recent Gallup poll shows Biden’s approval rating rising from 38% to 44%. The president is still in a precarious position with 53% of Americans disapproving of his performance. The struggles during the first half of his term is reflective of inflation and the higher cost of goods and services, as well as his stumble in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. It all soured the president with independent voters and soft Republicans. And Biden is still not beloved by progressives in his own party who wanted bolder initiatives, though that could change after his string of legislative victories.
The question for Democrats: Can Biden turn it around by Election Day, or have voters already made up their minds about the first two years of his presidency?
If Biden doesn’t turn it around, he could also be an albatross for Texas Democrats trying to avoid national headwinds in their difficult effort to win their first statewide race since 1994.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said Biden and Democrats should be more aggressive in selling their accomplishments to voters.
“They need to get out there,” Price told The News. “There are accomplishments; they just need to be out there with voters.”