Why the 2022 race for Texas lieutenant governor might be in the national spotlight
Republican Dan Patrick already has a national audience. The Democrats who hope to challenge him next year will have to get used to a bright spotlight.
AUSTIN — Whichever Democrat earns the right to challenge Dan Patrick's bid for a third term as lieutenant governor next year will likely have to navigate in political waters with a national audience tuned in.
One of the two announced candidates has already done it. The other says he's up to the challenge.
The biggest reason that what historically has been a sleepy campaign to play second fiddle in Austin will likely be a marquee matchup in 2022 is because of Patrick. He is a one-time talk radio impresario who has been a magnet for the spotlight as the master of the Texas Senate since January 2015. His take-no-prisoners approach to conservative issues has made him popular among Fox News viewers and a favorite of former President Donald Trump. And, Patrick often leaves the impression that he, not Gov. Greg Abbott, is the true driver of the agenda inside the Capitol.
'I can close the gap':Democrat Mike Collier launches campaign for Texas lieutenant governor
And that's what Matthew Dowd and Mike Collier say they intend to put a stop to if they win next year's Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
Who are the Democrats running for Texas lieutenant governor?
Decades ago, Dowd was a behind-the-scenes operative for mainstream Democrats back when mainstream Democrats dominated the Texas political landscape. He worked for Lloyd Bentsen, who served 18 years in the U.S. Senate and was the Democratic nominee for vice present in 1988. Then Dowd worked for Bob Bullock, who was Patrick's equal when it came to wielding power as lieutenant governor in the 1990s, but not as ideologically driven.
But later Dowd switched sides and signed on with Republican George W. Bush and helped engineer his successful presidential reelection campaign in 2004. Now Dowd is back with the Democrats and making his first run for office, he says, because Patrick's policies on targeting reproductive rights, the LGBTQ community and an anything-goes approach to gun rights have taken Texas into a very dark place.
Collier, too, has Republican ties. But, he says, only as a voter until about a decade ago. Never as an activist or as an operative. An accountant by trade, Collier has emerged as something of a latter-day happy warrior for Texas Democrats. In 2014, unknown and underfunded, he ran for state comptroller. He never had a chance.
Four years later, only slightly better known and still underfunded, Collier came within 5 percentage points of upsetting Patrick in the lieutenant governor's race. The 2018 cycle was the best year for Texas Democrats in almost a generation – recall Beto O'Rourke's close call against Ted Cruz – which is why Collier says that with a bit more money and little more luck, he'd be the one running for reelection next year.
Dowd enters the race comfortable in the national spotlight. Since splitting with Bush over the former president's handling of the war with Iraq, Dowd has emerged as a sought-after pundit, working as a commentator for ABC News and often appearing on the cable networks to criticize the direction of the modern GOP since Trump became its leader. That exposure, he says, helped with early fundraising and has provided him with all-important name-ID heading into the 2022 cycle.
Collier, who since entering politics has rubbed elbows with local party activists and participated in town hall gatherings in parts of Texas where Democrats seldom venture, says Dowd's somewhat unexpected entrance into the race doesn't change his plans. This month he embarked on was he calls "a barnstorming" schedule to meet as many Democratic voters one-on-one as he can.
"You've got to go out and earn people's trust," said Collier, who grew up Georgetown and lives in Houston. "I've been on this for five years. My plan is to go talk. I've got friends and allies and surrogates all over the state. And I'm going to go out and I'm going to add to them."
Dowd, who decided to return to the Democratic fold and seek office after the Trump-inspired Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, says he wants to run a campaign based on values, not on a series of 10-point programs that often leave voters uninspired and scratching their heads.
"I think most voters in Texas are aligned with the Democrats on the issues," said Dowd, a Michigan native whose parents had 10 children. "But they don't often relate to a lot of candidates on a values. And so ... I hope to have that conversation — just basic human values of compassion and integrity."
Both candidates say they plan to run their primary campaigns as if it were the general election. That means the focus will be on Patrick, who is used to being the center of attention in politics, both in Texas and beyond.
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.