AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is fighting to keep his powerful Texas office after 12 years on the job, accused his tea party rival of lies Wednesday in a combative debate ahead of a runoff vote later this month.
Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick fired back with skills polished from his job as a talk radio host and urged GOP voters to oust on May 27 the three-term incumbent who finished a distant second in the March primary. The runoff could seal what has been a dominant primary season for ultraconservatives in the state Legislature.
Animosity dominated what was likely the final major debate with three weeks left in the race. Heated arguments erupted over a Dewhurst ad that shows Patrick taking off his shirt, financial debts and even what Dewhurst ate for dinner during an anti-abortion bill debate in the Senate last summer.
"Do you have snake oil for the hair loss too, Dan?" Dewhurst said at one point.
Panning the insult as cheesy, Patrick shot back, "It's really beneath you."
Both have served together in the state Senate since 2007. Dewhurst says he wants a fourth and final term after losing his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012 against firebrand Ted Cruz, but he's now in jeopardy of seeing his political career end against another tea party leader.
Patrick founded the tea party caucus in the Texas Senate and has tried to cast Dewhurst as too moderate for the future of the party. Ultraconservative challengers for House and Senate seats prevailed in key races in March or advanced to their own runoffs, and a Patrick victory would signal a further rightward tilt in an already conservative Legislature.
It would also complete a total housecleaning of every major statewide office, set off by Gov. Rick Perry's decision to not seek another term after 14 years.
Republican voters gave Patrick 41 percent of the vote in March in a four-way race. Dewhurst got 28 percent of the vote, finishing ahead of Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
Demonstrating the increasing rancor of the race, the debate at Dallas television station WFAA turned hostile from the start.
Patrick began by blasting an attack ad that features a picture of him nearly shirtless — which was taken at a charity event in which he was auctioning the shirt off his back. Dewhurst said using the picture was a mistake and said he called the charity to apologize, but he maintained that the message about Patrick's character in the ad was true.
Both went on to trade shots over finances, bringing up Patrick filing for bankruptcy in the 1980s and Dewhurst still working to pay back creditors from his 2012 run for Senate after a former aide was accused of taking campaign funds.
The winner will face Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in the general election in November.
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