Is David Dewhurst the favorite to win re-election as lieutenant governor?

Conventional wisdom says no, and the Texas Tribune kindly quantified conventional wisdom a few weeks ago when 55% of "Insiders" said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst wasn't likely to be re-elected compared to only 36% who said he was.

I completely disagree: Dewhurst is favored to win re-election, if we assume that he really commits to the race and self-funds the same ~$20 million that he historically has. Those same insiders collectively got the Senate race wrong from the very start to the very finish, so I suppose it's fitting that they are equally mistaken now.

1. Who can raise the money?
Put yourself in a donor's shoes. A fundraiser for Patterson -- the only announced LG opponent so far -- wants you to give. My first two questions would be: 1) can you win? and 2) why did you endorse Dewhurst for Senate a week before announcing your candidacy? As that big donor, you're going to have some serious question marks.

And those question marks apply for almost every Dewhurst challenger. How do Combs, Staples, Patterson, Patrick etc run a race against Dewhurst after they fully endorsed Dewhurst's record as LG?

It's going to be tough for any opponent to raise the money necessary. It's overlooked that Cruz raised a million in his first FEC quarter. That's a serious haul for a federal race (though not for a state race), and it was clear that more money would eventually be available to whoever won the sub-primary. I doubt we'll see any national Super PACs willing to fund an LG challenge to Dewhurst.

2. Dewhurst controls his destiny.
Win legislatively. Imagine a Dewhurst in 2014 that has 1) fought to hold the line on spending, and 2) passed a school choice bill. He joins with Gov Perry in pushing Speaker Straus (if indeed he remains speaker) to pass the budget compact.

Lock up donors. Most speculation centers on multiple challengers that splits the vote and puts Dewhurst in a runoff, a la Senate 2012. Color me skeptical. I'm guessing lots of potential challengers go talk to donors and find that it is going to be tough going in raising the money. After they find donor commitments tough to obtain, I doubt there will be lots of challengers.

So imagine that Dewhurst has done both those things (and spent some time mending bridges with activists). Now tell me who among the downballot officeholders beats Dewhurst head-to-head. I don't see it.

3. People misunderstand Senate 2012.
Probably most of Texas Tribune's Austin insiders still fail to understand the enthusiasm that existed for Ted Cruz. He had relationships going back years, and had been touring the state even before the AG campaign.

It's a different race dynamic when you're running for an open seat instead of running for re-election. Incumbents have much more of an endowment effect bias working in their favor. KBH found this out when she ran against Rick Perry: she had to state a case for replacing Perry, and she didn't.

Also, the Lite Guv role fits Dewhurst's demonstated skill set much better than being US Senator.

X factor: Greg Abbott. If our AG runs for LG, he would be a formidable candidate. But that's a big risk, and if anything Abbott has shown risk aversion over his career. If Abbott is to take a big risk in 2014, why not challenge Perry? Most folks think Abbott would never do this, due to a combination of caution, loyalty and friendship. They'd know better than I would. Even so, it doesn't seem like Abbott running against Dewhurst for LG makes much sense from the AG's perspective.

Of course, implicit in this analysis is that Perry runs again for re-election, which the guv is signalling that he will do. If Perry doesn't run, we may see an Abbott v Dewhurst gubernatorial campaign, in which case I'd call Abbott the favorite (and also why Dewhurst never should have run for Senate)

Conclusion:
Dewhurst isn't invulnerable, but he's still the favorite to be re-elected. We all saw what happened in the recent primary and runoff. Yes, he angered lots of voters and activists. But if Dewhurst makes conservatives happy in the legislative session and he puts in some work, he should be in a good position to be lite guv in 2015.

Posted by Evan @ 10/02/12 10:10 AM

 
 

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