SALADO, Texas (AP) — Scoffing at the issue of climate change was easy, but tea party favorite Dan Patrick also didn't miss the chance to savage the White House's purported efforts to slow it — really working the conservative crowd into a frenzy.
"I understand why Obama thinks he can change the weather," the millionaire radio talk show host bellowed over rising applause from the 200 people assembled at a ranch deep in the countryside "because he thinks he's God."
From Texas, which made firebrand Ted Cruz a political celebrity and remains America's franchise state for the tea party movement, comes another rising grassroots star. Patrick's victory Tuesday in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, a position that holds a unique amount of power in Texas, over 11-year incumbent David Dewhurst has the potential to push a deeply red state even farther to the right at a time when tea party contenders are struggling elsewhere.
Patrick, like Cruz, has "a spirit for real reform but also a fighter mentality," said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America — We the People, a conservative activist group based in East Texas. "Dan Patrick, he's going to make people in both parties very unhappy, just like we've seen with Senator Cruz."
Although tea party contenders are losing in primaries in many states, they keep rising in a state that's fertile ground for grassroots stalwarts.
"The tea party groups are better-organized, much better-funded and much more-focused than the pro-business or other establishment outside efforts," said Texas-based strategist Matt Mackowiak. "They just are."
The movement's strength in Texas is further magnified in primary and runoff elections, where turnout is low and the most motivated voters have the greatest sway.
Twenty years Cruz's senior but a head taller and often quicker with a 10,000-watt smile, Patrick has the same fast-on-his-feet oratorical prowess as Cruz, who was an Ivy League debating champion. Patrick has a more abrasive style that critics call bullying — but also has been known to weep in public over issues close to his heart.
Patrick brags that he was the first grassroots sensation elected in Texas when he won a Houston-based state Senate seat in 2006. He founded the Legislature's tea party caucus, and his lieutenant governor bid won strong support from state grassroots groups, as well national figures like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Both Patrick and Cruz toppled the same Texas mainstream GOP-backed opponent in Dewhurst, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
"Tea party folks love America, they love the Constitution, they love (free) markets, they love the Second Amendment and they love Texas," Patrick said during his victory party Tuesday. "If you love America, welcome to the grassroots of the Republican Party."
Born Danny Scott Goeb, Patrick grew up in working-class Baltimore and took a new name for on-air appearances while working as a sportscaster in Pennsylvania. His rise featured some serious setbacks, including going bankrupt and attempting suicide in the 1980s, before he made a fortune buying and selling Texas radio broadcast rights.
More recently, he has devoted his radio program to social and policy topics that resonate with fierce conservatives.
"What we're trying to do is take back America," said one fan, Irene Dykemn, a 78-year-old retired artist who saw Patrick at a recent tea party debate in Salado, north of Austin. "It's really going bad and I'm just scared of what's going to happen."
Patrick is a born-again Christian who is extremely vocal about his faith. His memoir is titled "A Personal Challenge to Read the Bible" and he successfully pushed to display "In God We Trust" in the Texas Senate Chamber.
Despite their political affinity, Patrick and Cruz have feuded publicly in the past. After Patrick backed Dewhurst's 2012 Senate bid, Cruz accused him of lying during a heated radio appearance.
To become lieutenant governor, Patrick still must beat Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November, but he's a strong favorite.
If he wins, Patrick has promised to further restrict access to abortion and give Texans the right to carry guns virtually anywhere. He says he can muscle policies through the Legislature to halt an "illegal invasion" of immigrants. Patrick even has threatened to subject airport screeners to criminal charges for "excessive touching" during security pat-downs.
For now, he's not yet on the radar of the major national conservative groups because he's seeking a state office, but Peggy Venable, a policy director for Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, said she sees "a lot of similarities" with the more famous Cruz.