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David Dewhurst’s and Dan Patrick’s Surreal Brawl in Three Attack Ads

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The background of the Texas Democratic Party's new anti-Dewhurst attack site.
mountaindewhurst.com
The background of the Texas Democratic Party's new anti-Dewhurst attack site.

This year’s Republican primary for lt. governor has consistently been the state’s weirdest race, and none of the participants shows any signs of calming down as it heads towards its conclusion later this month. If anything, it’s getting weirder. Incumbent David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) are clawing at each other with mounting fury while Texas Democrats are sniping from the side. The runoff is roughly four weeks away—here are three attack ads that show a misstepping Dewhurst, an energized Patrick and a Democratic Party that’s happy about it all.

1) Mountain Dew

Bizarre attack sites have primarily been the domain of Republican candidates this cycle, but this latest effort from the Democratic Party shows there’s talent on both sides of the aisle. Take MountainDewhurst.com, a copyright-infringement-flirting website that plays off everyone’s favorite neon-green swill.

mountain dewhurst screenshotIt’s a strange effort for a couple reasons. One, it’s a backdoor endorsement of Sen. Patrick by Texas Democrats, who clearly think he’ll be easier to beat in November. But if so, the site’s not exactly targeted at Republican primary voters, who will decide if Dew or Dan wins in the coming runoff. It charges that The Dew “only cares about money,” has “no regard for Texas women” and is “anti-immigrant,” which sounds like exactly the kind of candidate that would win a Republican primary.

But the site explicitly calls for viewers to vote for Patrick in the runoff: “Make sure we stop [Dewhurst] on May 27.” If Patrick wins the runoff, and wins in November, will Democrats come to regret this effectively in-kind donation to Patrick’s campaign? Is this a good use of resources? Or was it simply an act of trolling too good to pass up?

Dewhurst, for his part, calls the “website a badge of honor, as it reflects their fear of my strong conservative record of accomplishments in the Senate and my vision for the future of Texas.”

2) The Dewhurst Decade

Does Dewhurst have a conservative record? Ask Patrick. In 2012, as Dew’s campaign is now fond of reminding people, Patrick backed Dewhurst over Cruz in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate and lauded Dew as an “authentic conservative.” How times change.

After Dewhurst’s first attack ad launch against Patrick, Patrick responded in kind. Now, he’s doubling down, with an ad called “The Dewhurst Decade.” The sum of Dewhurst’s career in public service, Patrick argues, is “more taxpayer funded benefits for illegal immigrants.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 1.02.59 PMMeanwhile, he’s tacked on a hot new app to DewFeed.com, his months-old attack site. DewFeed helped set the tone for this campaign, so it’s fitting that Patrick is returning to it in his hour of need. It’s a quiz—a visitor can guess whether a straw-man position on immigration is held by either David Dewhurst, Julian Castro, or both. (Spoiler: The answer is always both.) Win the quiz, and you’ll be lauded. “Good job! You know the truth about Dewhurst’s liberal ways.”

It’s a reminder that for all the harumphing indignation about Dewhurst’s new negative tack, it was Patrick that went negative first. He’s been jackhammering his opponents with light-on-context misrepresentations since last fall. And he’s going to keep right at it.

3) Stuntman Dan

When Dewhurst launched this tit-for-tat volley last month, he did it with a seemingly misguided ad that slammed Patrick for his decision not to repay debt he’d accumulated before a bankruptcy and ended with a weird insinuation that Patrick changed his name out of fear of his debtors. The second charge was easily disproven, and the first was a bizarre tack because Dewhurst has had debt troubles himself. Presently, Dew’s trying to negotiate down a sum he owes to pollster Mike Baselice.

Dewhurst spent $1 million on that ad, and he’s following it up with $600,000 for a second. Did he get the tone right this time?

This ad works in some of the previous claims, in a manner less likely to earn PolitiFact’s “Pants on Fire” rating. But the main attraction is the inclusion of pictures of Patrick wearing a coat, a tie, and no shirt, in what at first glance might seem to place Patrick at some kind of swingers party.

Dan, is that where you were?

The photo was taken at a Christmas fundraising party for our children with multiple disabilities and our deaf children at Be An Angel in December 2010. I was auctioning off the shirt off my back, literally, as part of the live auction. It sold for $1500 and it hangs proudly in the office of the couple who purchased it. They are long time supporters of mine and Be An Angel.

[...]

For David Dewhurst to use a photo from a charity event for disabled children, and pervert the use of that photo to attack me in his continued negative campaign is about as low as you can go.

Dewhurst continues to spend great big stacks of money on negative ads that seem oddly sloppy. Patrick’s brain trust, the strategist Allen Blakemore, presented the possibility Dewhurst would adopt a “Sherman’s march” strategy for the runoff, but so far this seems like the Charge of the Light Brigade—costly, poorly managed, ill-timed and full of missed opportunities.

Dewhurst’s people says it’s working, though! The polls are shifting, they say. Meanwhile, Patrick’s campaign is calling Mountain Dew “desperate and floundering.” And time’s running out.

Christopher Hooks joined the Observer in 2014. Previously, he was a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

  • 1bimbo

    dewhurst 2014!