AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Houston Sen. Dan Patrick found himself under attack Friday for a campaign ad in the lieutenant governor's race that his three opponents said is deceitful.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson called Patrick out during a joint appearance Friday before the Texas Municipal League's annual convention in Austin.
In his first television ad, released Monday, Patrick claims he is the only candidate for lieutenant governor who opposed a current state law extending in-state college tuition to children who were brought to the United States illegally but who graduated from a Texas high school and met other residency requirements. The 2001 law requires the students to apply for legal residency.
The ad severely distorts the political records of Patrick's opponents, who have repeatedly criticized the measure, and independent observers have labeled it false. Patrick defended the ad, but tried to change the subject by saying the candidates should concentrate on the issues.
"We have 'political Dan' up on the stage today, who issues a lie and then challenges everybody to get on the issues. That is very unauthentic and doesn't bode well," Staples said.
The enmity between the four candidates was apparent throughout the discussion led by Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith. All four men bill themselves as conservative Republicans and have appealed for the tea party vote. Smith pointed out there was little space between them on most major issues, such as opposing abortion rights, limiting state spending, taking a tough line on illegal immigration and spending the Rainy Day Fund on road and water projects.
When asked what set them apart when they agree on so much, the candidates said it was primarily a question of leadership style, priorities and experience. Dewhurst was elected in 2003, Patrick was elected to the Texas Senate in 2006 and both Patterson and Staples were senators before being elected to their current statewide posts.
In a shift from past appearances where the candidates focused on Dewhurst, the incumbent, Staples and Patterson concentrated their criticism on Patrick. Dewhurst is considered the front-runner, and the other candidates hope to force a runoff where they will face him in a two-man race.
The conversation often slid into an insider's debate over the rules in the Texas Senate, which the lieutenant governor oversees. All four men said they would weaken the ability of the minority party to slow down legislation by lowering the hurdle for a bill to get a vote from a two-thirds majority of senators to only 60 percent. That would allow the current Republican majority in the Senate to pass legislation without a single Democratic vote.
The conversation did not hold the interest of the audience made up of officials and employees from 1,135 Texas cities. The event began with 400 people in the audience, but more than two-thirds had left before the debate ended.
Many were put off by the tone. When Patrick promised not to personally attack his opponents and asserted his right to run for Dewhurst's position, the audience gasped when Dewhurst replied: "Everyone has the right, just tell the truth."
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cltomlinson