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For Two State Leaders, an Uncomfortable Homecoming

Bob Daemmrich / Eric Kayne, Texas Tribune

This might be kind of awkward.

Usually, when candidates with seemingly every advantage blow their political races, they retreat into the holes they crawled out of.

In fact, until this year, Texas never had to contend with statewide officeholders serving after being rejected by the voters.

Now we have two.

Gov. Rick Perry is actually the milder case. He went off to seek the Republican nomination for president, made himself the wrong kind of YouTube star and came home with nothing but war stories to show for his effort.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, on the other hand, is now in the peculiar position of representing the same voters who just rejected him. Perry’s campaign never made it as far as Texas, and he didn’t get a chance to see in a meaningful way what the voters here thought of his national bid. Dewhurst came into his U.S. Senate race on a string of statewide primary and general election bids that stretches back to 1998. His campaign operation ought to be a well-oiled machine by now.

Republican primary voters instead chose a first-time candidate, one who politicked his way across the state for months in forums, town halls, debates and appearances designed to put him in touch with the public. Dewhurst, a formal politician, used a Rose Garden strategy for much of the race — it was designed to keep him out of harm’s way and to avoid bringing attention to the other candidates.

Ted Cruz turned that to his advantage, constantly pointing to Dewhurst’s absence as evidence that the lieutenant governor was distant from the voters and their needs. Without many differences between the candidates on ideology and policy, it turned into the establishment guy versus the populist, an organization man who worked his way up and waited his turn against a political entrepreneur jumping at the top race. Cruz was telling the voters at those forums that he was one of them and that Dewhurst wasn’t there and wasn’t listening.

He won. Dewhurst doesn’t have the luxury of going home to nurse his wounds. He not only has to stay in Texas, but he’s got a job, with a legislative session coming up in less than six months. He will preside over a Senate that has a minimum of 5 new members out of 31. What’s more, those 5 are all Republican, arguably more conservative than the Republicans they’re replacing, and several of them have more in common with Ted Cruz than with David Dewhurst.

Senators, nearly certain at one time that Dewhurst wouldn’t be returning, were busy with the politics of replacing him — a process that would mean electing one of their own to preside over the next session.

At least three statewide officials were scrounging up support for the 2014 race to take his spot.

His failure is theirs.

One, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, sent a note on election night saying he will run for lieutenant governor in 2014 whether or not Dewhurst is in that race. Dewhurst, fresh off of the campaign trail, has not said what he plans to do.

He needs to have a successful legislative session before he can have a successful election, and he might be able to wait a year before making any public plans.

Perry, who has said he is thinking about seeking another term, is waiting, too. If Mitt Romney loses in November, don’t be surprised if Perry’s acolytes float his name again as a presidential contender. It would be difficult after the mess he made of his first attempt, but anything is possible.

He, like Dewhurst, has some rebuilding to do. His endorsements — for Dewhurst and others on the Republican ballot this summer — did not provide a boost for his friends. Just before the election, a poll suggested that Perry’s presidential race tarnished his endorsements and turned them into negatives for the candidates he is trying to help.

The elections held a lot of bad news for the two of them, and now they are uncomfortably back at work, out in the open where the public and their adversaries can see them.

A legislative session with all of its fiscal and political unpleasantries might be just the thing to change the subject. The next elections are still about two years away.

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
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