Although there will be runoffs in Texas on Tuesday to choose Republican nominees for state attorney general and several U.S. House and state legislative seats, the battle that is by far the most watched, most discussed, and most rancorous is for lieutenant governor.
So bitter is the nomination fight between incumbent David Dewhurst and insurgent Dan Patrick that there are growing fears among Republicans that no matter who wins, the rift will never heal and Democrats may have an excellent chance of winning the second-highest office in the Lone Star State. And with the lieutenant governor picking committee chairmen in the state Senate, that position actually has more power than the governor.
"I have no idea who will win the runoff because I have no idea who will turn out for the runoff on Tuesday," former state Republican Chairman Tom Pauken told Newsmax. "No one does."
Democrats also have a strong contender in state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who has done widespread work in Austin on behalf of veterans.
When results were finalized in the initial primary in March, Texas observers were stunned to learn that Dewhurst, who has served three terms as lieutenant governor, ran second in the crowded field with only 28 percent of the vote.
Leading the GOP pack with 41 percent of the vote was Patrick, a Houston-area state senator and radio-TV commentator, whose opposition to illegal immigration and same-sex marriage has long been hallmarks of his spirited broadcasts.
Although much of the national press has characterized the contest between Dewhurst and Patrick as a clash between the establishment and tea party wings of the party, it is actually somewhat different.
Dewhurst, a 68-year-old wealthy businessman who was beaten for the GOP Senate nod by conservative activist Ted Cruz in 2012, takes conservative positions on virtually every issue.
Patrick, 64, is often described as a tea party candidate and is closely identified with the illegal immigration issue. He has vowed to work with Mexico to secure the Texas border and to abolish sanctuary cities and in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. Ironically, Patrick supported Dewhurst over Cruz for the Senate nod two years ago.
In the last 10 days, the clash between the two grew even more incendiary. The fourth-place finisher in the primary, state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, leaked medical records revealing Patrick's personal mental health battles 30 years ago.
According to the records, Patrick attempted suicide in 1986 with an overdose of an anti-depressant. He then checked into a private psychiatric hospital for treatment of severe depression.
The records also revealed Patrick's stay in another psychiatric hospital in 1982, where according to a hospital report he "needed sitters around the clock for being severely depressed."
Dewhurst's campaign categorically denounced the release of Patrick's medical records by Patterson, who is now supporting the incumbent lieutenant governor in the runoff.
Patterson told reporters he acquired the records from court cases through an attorney "who does not want to be named." He also insisted that the information was "not leaked, but in the public domain for 25 years."
Three GOP colleagues in the state Senate who are all physicians released a statement saying "a personal attack of this kind sinks to an unprecedented low, shamelessly attempting to embarrass Dan Patrick for seeking the appropriate medical care to treat a minor bout with depression that occurred almost 30 years ago. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in 10 American adults suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime — something which the perpetrators of this attack apparently believe should disqualify them from serving their communities or contributing to society."
The Dallas Morning News, no friend of Patrick, endorsed Patterson in the primary. When he failed to make the runoff, the venerable newspaper switched to Dewhurst "as the superior governing alternative to Patrick's doctrinaire conservatism."
"That is why it's so discouraging now," editorialized the Morning News on Monday, "to see Patterson, and possibly Dewhurst, scrape moral bottom in leaking medical records revealing that Patrick, in the mid-1980s, was hospitalized and received medication as treatment for depression.
"A newspaper that has made 'Erasing the Stigma' of mental illness one of its centerpiece campaigns could read this no other way. Simply, it's shameful."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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