After 12 years in one of the most powerful jobs in Texas state government, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst needs a rally to keep it. And with just three weeks left until his May 27 Republican primary runoff election against state Sen. Dan Patrick, time is running short.
Patrick and Dewhurst face off Wednesday in a round-table discussion and debate hosted by Dallas television station WFAA that will be streamed live. It is likely to be the last face-to-face sparring match between the candidates in a bitter and blustery campaign.
For Dewhurst, it could be his last chance to make a direct appeal to Republican voters statewide who gave Patrick 41 percent of the vote back in March. Dewhurst was a distant second at 28 percent.
Because neither candidate secured at least 50 percent in the four-way contest, they advanced to a runoff. The winner will face Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in the general election in November.
A few things to watch for from Patrick and Dewhurst on Wednesday:
ON THE ATTACK: Dewhurst's poor showing in the primary prompted him to go on the attack the last two months, picking over Patrick's business history, including a past bankruptcy, who he borrowed money from and the hiring of several immigrants who were in the country illegally in the 1980s. Patrick has countered with verbal punches of his own, noting a bankruptcy in Dewhurst's business past, and accusing Dewhurst of running the "nastiest and dirtiest" campaign in recent memory.
The men have served in the Senate together since 2007, but have been bickered for years over policy and leadership style and are likely to keep squabbling right up until the election.
LATE ENDORSEMENT: Dewhurst is likely to note his endorsement from former rival Jerry Patterson, the state land commissioner who finished last in the four-way primary in March. Patterson threw his support behind Dewhurst this week, but it may get him much of a bump considering Patterson's low level of support in March.
ON POLICY: Outside of character attacks, the candidates have agreed on opposition to federal health care programs and same-sex marriage, which have been key issues among conservative voters. And both have supported unhindered oil and gas exploration, teaching creationism in schools and cutting funds to women's care facilities that provide abortions.
Patrick has criticized Dewhurst for not preventing the 2013 abortion restrictions bill filibuster, which helped launch Democrat Wendy Davis' campaign for governor.
LEADERSHIP: Both men have said they want to change the Senate rule that requires a two-thirds vote of support to bring up bills for debate. Reducing the margin to 60 percent would allow Republicans to pass bills without any support from Democrats. The Lt. Gov. presides over the state Senate and controls the flow of legislation in the chamber.
DESPERATION: Dewhurst, who has already said this would likely be his final campaign, lost a U.S. Senate race to Ted Cruz in 2012. Back then, Dewhurst was considered the favorite until Cruz staged a runoff rally by uniting grass-roots support in the lower-turnout runoff to snatch the victory. Another loss would send Dewhurst toward retirement with two crushing defeats for one of the longest-serving lieutenant governors in state history.