McALLEN — The small but spirited side room of supporters at Costa Messa this week welcomed the unlikely next lieutenant governor of Texas.
Polls have Mike Collier, the Democrat running to unseat cash-strapped and widely-known Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, behind by as close as a couple points and as far back as the mid-teens.
“Realistically, Collier has no chance whatsoever for victory simply because of the natural Republican lean of Texas,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy. “State-wide, every Republican starts off with a 12 to 15 point advantage, and that’s what Dan Patrick has. But he’s not the most popular lieutenant governor.”
Don’t tell Collier his odds are long, as he travels the state and deploys “mean and lean” digital strategies. Collier, an accountant by trade who’s made several trips to the Rio Grande Valley in the last year, said he hopes to capitalize on how “incredibly unlikable” Patrick is, how he has no regard for health care, veterans and public education.
When Collier asked the full side room at the Costa Messa on North 10th Street this week how many people were teachers, more than half of the hands in the room shot up.
Rosemary Miranda, 76, was one. She’s a retired librarian and couldn’t believe Patrick’s statewide priorities.
“He wants to talk about bathrooms,” she said of the “bathroom bill,” a divisive legislative issue during the 2017 state legislature that would have restricted bathroom use for transgender Texans. “That tells us where his priorities are.”
James Whiddon was a 53-year-old Army veteran from Edinburg who supported Collier.
“Either you’re for Satan, or you’re against Satan,” Whiddon said of Patrick.
Patrick, however, has no intention of defending his views. His campaign announced in July that, despite offers from Collier, Patrick will not participate in a debate leading up to November’s election.
“It’s no secret Lt. Governor Patrick relishes debates, but since his opponent shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government, our campaign has no plans to debate him,” Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore told the Texas Tribune. “There isn’t anyone in the Lone Star State who isn’t absolutely clear about where Dan Patrick stands on the issues. He told us what he was going to do, then he did it. That’s why Dan Patrick has the overwhelming support of the conservative majority in Texas.”
Collier also said he wants to keep property taxes down, which he said the conservative leadership in Texas have only increased.
“People say, ‘Dan Patrick’s a Republican, there’s no way he increased property taxes,’” Collier said in an interview. “Well, he has. I’m an accountant, but you don’t need to be one to see that. It’s a fact.”
But can Collier overcome Patrick’s millions of dollars and wide name recognition? Not to mention, his race is not getting much attention as Beto O’Rourke has been the main Democratic attraction in this election cycle.
“I announced early, because I believed I could then, and I do now,” Collier said with a giddy grin. “Who likes Dan Patrick?”
Jones said most candidates inevitably know when they’re going to lose. But Collier didn’t say as much.
“If there were realistic chances to beat Dan Patrick this cycle, Mike Collier would not be the candidate,” Jones said. “A higher profile Democrat would’ve been the party’s candidate.”
Whiddon said Collier has about a 40 percent chance to beat Patrick. The larger the vote, Whiddon said, “we’ll win.”
Jones said Collier’s enthusiasm and campaigning is a positive for the party, despite his unlikely chances.
“In many ways this is a very selfless act by Collier,” Jones said. “You’re helping build the Democratic Party for the future. That’s what the Democrats need, because otherwise you’re never going to get out of this vicious circle.”