By Brian M. Rosenthal and David Saleh Rauf, San Antonio express news
Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, will answer questions in a Spanish-language television event without Republican rival Dan Patrick. He’ll be meeting with industry trade groups, his campaign says.
There may be no better illustration of the status of this year’s race for one of the most powerful positions in the state.
Van de Putte, a state senator from San Antonio but little-known statewide, has spent 31/2 months doing everything possible to gain attention for her underdog campaign.
She has inundated reporters with near-daily news releases and has invited some media to watch Spurs playoff basketball on television.
Her campaign has rolled out policies on education, jobs and health care. Last week, it started airing television ads.
Patrick, by contrast, has not yet run ads or held a news conference since winning the Republican runoff in late May. His campaign has put out an advance announcement about exactly one event in that time.
The Houston state senator has done many campaign events, particularly with tea party groups, but has not amplified his message beyond the room.
It may seem like an unusual strategy for a flamboyant radio show host who overwhelmed incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst this spring in part with pastorlike speaking talents.
To political analysts, however, it’s a familiar dynamic for a race with a clear Republican frontrunner in a state that has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in two decades.
Recent polling indicates this race is unlikely to break that trend. Patrick is expected to coast to victory unless he makes a serious error on the campaign trail.
That gives him every incentive to avoid rocking the boat, said Merle Black, a political scientist at Atlanta’s Emory University who said he has often seen the pattern play out in Georgia.
“It’s kind of Politics 101,” Black said. “If you have a big lead, you don’t debate, you don’t engage and you don’t really do anything to bring exposure to the race.”
Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore declined to explain the lack of news conferences or provide a detailed campaign schedule.
“We do not discuss our campaign strategy with the media,” Blakemore said in an email. “To do so, would necessarily reveal it to our opponents. The media and our opponents will learn about our strategy when we choose to reveal it.”
The strategy is new for Patrick.
During this year’s grueling GOP primary, he was the clear aggressor, striking first on the airwaves and continually forcing his three opponents to pivot further to the right.
In the runoff with Dewhurst, for example, Patrick’s campaign sent out a blitz of eight news releases in the week before the election.
About a week later, Patrick roused thousands of the party faithful at the state GOP convention with a speech focused on border security.
Then, as if a switch flipped, his campaign went into hunker-down mode.
It sent two news releases in the six weeks after the runoff. Patrick did not re-emerge until even later, in a July 16 speech at the annual gathering of the Texas Future Farmers Association.
When Patrick addressed the state’s broadcaster’s association Aug. 7, he quickly left without taking questions from reporters.
“I’ve been the most media-friendly guy in the Legislature,” Patrick shouted before vanishing.
Democrats repeatedly have tried to seize on the candidate’s absence from the limelight. At one point, they sent reporters an image of a poster featuring Patrick’s face and the words “Have you seen this man?”
“This is a very important position in state government, and I’m not going to second guess what is the campaign strategy,” Van de Putte said in an interview last week. “But it’s disrespectful to voters.”
Van de Putte’s campaign proposed five debates in the race, including Friday’s Univisión event. Patrick, after participating in more than two dozen primary debates, accepted one.
Democrats have complained that Patrick even has actively blocked reporters from covering at least one event.
At a Texas Lyceum conference last month, organizers said Patrick’s campaign closed new media access for his speech. Van de Putte, on the other hand, granted access to reporters for her spiel.
“I believed including the media would not enhance the experience for the members of the Lyceum,” Blakemore said. “So, in order to allow an open dialogue between Lyceum members and Sen. Patrick, the decision might have been made to limit attendance.”
Republican strategist Ted Delisi said Patrick is campaigning hard but focused on uniting conservative voters, not appeasing traditional media.
“I don’t think (Patrick’s strategy) is covert,” Delisi said. “I’d call it the new overt.”
Photos posted on Facebook show Patrick in fact is keeping a busy schedule — but it’s not clear that most Texans have any clue when or where he’s going to show up.
Take this example: while stumping in the Rio Grande Valley in August, Patrick posted a trio of photos on Facebook.
One supporter took to the comments section to complain about missing the lieutenant governor hopeful.
“Didn’t know you were in town,” wrote Royce Countryman of Mission. “Would have liked to have listened to what you had to say, and maybe a couple of Qs?”
Patrick’s most recent appearances have continued the stealth approach.
Last weekend, he maintained a rigorous stump schedule — none of which was made public beforehand.
On Saturday, he appeared with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in Tarrant County and then phone-banked with the tea party hero on behalf of Konni Burton, a state Senate candidate from the Fort Worth area.
After hitting a small city between Dallas and Fort Worth for an event with a Republican women’s club, Patrick flew to San Antonio for the Texas Association of Realtors annual conference.
Patrick then jetted back to Dallas, where he grabbed a late-night sandwich with his wife at an International House of Pancakes restaurant near his hotel.“We realized our day was like one of their super breakfasts — 4 cities — 3 planes — 4 speeches & 5 events. — like eggs, hash browns, bacon & pancakes — all good,” Patrick wrote on Facebook.