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Map: Is Dan Patrick Running A 'Stealth' Campaign?

LM Otero
Associated Press
Dan Patrick debated his Republican primary opponents at KERA in January.

In the past month, Texas voters have seen a lot of Leticia Van de Putte, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor. But they haven't seen nearly as much of her Republican opponent, Dan Patrick. 

Since the March primary, Patrick, the front runner, has mostly communicated with voters through 30-second campaign ads that briefly state his priorities and slam his opponent.

He posts photos and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

But Patrick has declined to talk to newspaper editorial boards. He’s canceled media interviews and community appearances. A survey of political reporters at major newspapers found no one who’s been able to interview or seriously question Patrick since Oct. 1.

His campaign has repeatedly turned down KERA requests for an interview as well.

'It's been basically impossible'

“It’s been basically impossible to get an interview with Sen. Patrick here in the last parts of the campaign,” said Brian Rosenthal, a political reporter with Patrick’s hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle.

Rosenthal says his best shot came when Patrick was recently getting out of an elevator while he was getting in. Rosenthal was working on a profile of Patrick, and had been trying for weeks to get an interview. With the senator cornered, he tried again.

“I asked him a question and he said he had to go. He made a statement then said he had to go,” Rosenthal said.

Map: Where are the candidates? Explore their visits below.

Van de Putte's visits from Oct. 1-27 are marked in blue; Patrick's visits are marked in red.

'He's being extremely disrespectful'

By contrast, Van de Putte has attended several public events nearly every day. 

She’s made Patrick’s lack of accessibility an issue as she campaigns.

“If you’re asking the people of Texas to vote for you need to tell them why," she said. "You need to stand out on the issues. And he’s being extremely disrespectful to those voters by not being accessible." 

KERA asked both campaigns to identify candidate appearances from Oct. 1 through Oct. 27. 

Van de Putte offered a list of 79 public breakfasts, rallies, get-out-the vote events and media interviews. 

Patrick prefers communicating via social media

Patrick identified 12, which included mostly unpublicized meetings with Republicans or students and one appearance on a Houston TV program where he answered questions. Campaign spokesman Alejandro Garcia defends Patrick’s under-the-radar style, saying he prefers communicating with voters directly through Facebook and Twitter.

“I know it frustrates the media they don’t get to put their spin on it, which works to the advantage of the candidate," Garcia said. "When you do post things to Facebook and use social media, you get to dictate what happens."

University of Texas Political Science Professor Jim Henson says Patrick, as the front runner in a red state, is just playing it safe.  

“Given the rules of the game it makes sense for Dan Patrick to run a relatively low-profile campaign,” Henson said.

Front runners play it safe

Given his penchant for making controversial statements, Patrick doesn’t want to say anything that could turn the tables. Henson says the public isn’t threatening to punish GOP frontrunners like Patrick who choose not to be visible.

“There’s really no pressure on any of these candidates to push for more debates, for debates that come at a more visible time, for a broader discourse that’s a little more interesting, a little more participatory,” Henson said.

The silent treatment might not work for future GOP candidates if Democrats become more competitive in Texas. But, for now, it’s standard operating procedure for the Houston state senator who wants to be lieutenant governor.  

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.