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Patrick followed Cruz strategy to beat Dewhurst

Published 11:53 am, Wednesday, March 5, 2014

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  • Supporters at Dan Patrick's election watch party. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle ) Photo: James Nielsen, Houston Chronicle
    Supporters at Dan Patrick's election watch party. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle ) Photo: James Nielsen, Houston Chronicle

 

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Four minutes after (most of the) polls closed. That's how long it took Tuesday night before state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston knew he had exceeded all expectations in his quest to topple 11-year incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

At 7:04 p.m., he saw results from the big North Texas counties like Dallas, Tarrant and Collin, and saw his vote totals besting Dewhurst's by substantial margins.

"We've been doing tracking polling for the last 10 days. With the exception of one day — and you can always have a blip — every tracking poll had us closing in on Dewhurst and then passing him by a couple of points," Patrick said Tuesday night after spending an hour snapping victory photos with supporters. "We projected based on our numbers we would lead the race with four or five points and I think the final number will be somewhere above that. " But, he added: "You never trust the polling until you see the votes."

Sitting on the edge of a small stage at the Greenway Doubletree, Patrick recounted how he assiduously followed the winning Republican Primary strategy devised by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who beat Dewhurst in 2012.

"We had probably 95 percent of the people who supported Ted Cruz supporting us. They are activists," he said. "I formed the tea party caucus in 2011 so I've known a lot of these people around the state from our tea party advisory group. Secondly, I pay very close attention to what's going on in the grassroots. I feel like I have straight lines of communication and I know the issues they are concerned about. I know the leaders in the state. So the ones I knew, I went to and the ones I didn't know I went and introduced myself to and very quickly in October and November they embraced me, put their arm around me and said 'we are going to help you win this election' "

Social media messaging was a key to keeping contact with key tea party activists, he said.

"We have 100,000 people on our Facebook page. I have not stopped working since Sept. 14. I took my grandson to Disneyworld and I came back on the 14th and I have not stopped except for two days at Christmas. We have done over 800 meetings and events. The other night, nine people in Fort Worth, that's how many people showed up. And we've spoken to a thousand people. We just worked hard and people heard my heart."

People involved in tea party organizations are highly committed: "They go out and hand out voter guides; they make phone calls. This idea that the tea party is dead..."

As his voice trailed off, he shook his head: "If you have a candidate who will work and at least enough resources to fund a statewide race then and you have the credentials, the tea party will bring you to victory."

He acknowledged that lots of Republican donors were "hesitant to give money against a incumbent. I think there will be less hesitancy now because I think most people will conclude that there's a very high probability we will win."

But he added, "It's not about the money. It's about the voters. It's about the people. As long as we have enough money to compete. We were outspent in this race. He threw a million dollars in the last week against us. You can buy advertising but you can't buy voters. "

He gave what sounded like a memorial tribute to Dewhurst: "I appreciate the lieutenant governor's public service but there is a time to move on and the voters have sent a very clear message three elections in a row that they want someone who is bold, who is energetic, who is passionate and who represents the conservative principles and values they hold dear. "

Many political scientists and consultants believe that Patrick – whose campaign included fierce promises to "stop the invasion" from Mexico – will be the easiest Republican for a Democrat to beat. To win that tea party support, he staked out far right positions on abortions, tuition for children of immigrants and a host of other social conservative issues.

Savoring his victory Tuesday night, he took a first step toward the mainstream issues and positions that will be more critical in the November general election, which tends to attract more moderate voters.

The Texas business establishment, he said "has no reason to be concerned" about him.

"As chairman of education, we passed some of the most sweeping education reforms in the last decade with bipartisan support that the business community wanted."

It will be interesting to watch how long Patrick continues hammering on tea party issues like the "invasion" from Mexico. Will he pivot now – to win the more moderate voters who supported Staples and Patterson – or will he continue his current course to cinch the Republican nomination?