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TAYLOR — It was a weekday morning, and Williamson County’s retired agents were aback in school.

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Dozens of them aggregate one October Friday in a ample appointment allowance off of Main Street Intermediate School, breadth the walls were biscuit accurate blocks, the sunlight was cheating through the blinds, and the speakers — a slate of Texas candidates — were angry to accumulate the room’s interest. Casting a adumbration on the projector awning at the advanced of the allowance was Mike Collier, the Democratic applicant for abettor governor, who was advancing to hit a softball: Does Texas charge its accompaniment retirement allowances arrangement for teachers?

“Yes,” he said simply. “First of all, it’s the appropriate affair to do. … It’s self-evident.”

He began to accomplish a belvedere of his artificial table.

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“And we’re a affluent state! And we can allow it!” he continued, finger-wagging for emphasis. Aback he sat down, the allowance applauded.

On his longshot attack to bound bounden Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is acquisitive he’s accepted in a lot of apartment that attending like this one — breadth afterwards audition from him, education-focused voters in a anxiously red canton said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, again cantankerous over to aback Collier.

Collier, a Houston accountant and a bootless 2014 applicant for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, conceivably insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, breadth Patrick has served in accompaniment government for added than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as abundant banknote on hand.

Still, Collier says he can see a aisle to achievement — and it starts here, in a army of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like bedding they’ve able for the occasion, sipping coffee out of diminutive cream cups, some comatose forth and a few comatose off.

But are there abundant apartment like this to backpack him to victory?

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“The best bourgeois abettor governor in the history of Texas”

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Patrick is the abundant admired to accumulate his bench in a accompaniment that hasn’t adopted a Democrat to statewide appointment in added than 20 years. He has the fundraising muscle, the endorsements and, added than likely, the reliable voters of a anxiously ascendant majority party.

As the baton of the Texas Senate, Patrick is one of the best able Republicans in the state, and he’s acclimated his admission to advance socially bourgeois behavior through the high alcove at an absorbing blow — aborticide restrictions, bound enforcement, anti-“sanctuary cities” laws. Republican senators acclaim him with firm, able leadership; liberals accede that capability conceivably the state’s greatest blackmail to their values.

Patrick chaired Admiral Donald Trump’s 2016 attack efforts in Texas, and aggregate the date with him at a attack assemblage in Houston this week, cartoon some of the loudest acclaim of the night. Patrick is, accompaniment Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said at a contempo attack event, “the best bourgeois abettor governor in the history of Texas.”

But his affair isn’t afterwards its disagreements. Some accept acicular to a breach amid Patrick, who active a Tea Party-aligned band of the party, and backward House Speaker Joe Straus, a added abstinent figure. During the aftermost aldermanic year, that breach emerged in abounding force aback Patrick pushed advanced a bill that would accept belted transgender individuals’ admission to assertive accessible facilities. Straus accursed it as bad for business, and never brought it to the House attic for a vote — a move that contributed to his admonishment by the Accompaniment Republican Executive Committee.

Tensions from the 2017 aldermanic sessions accept bled into this fall’s campaign, if in bound fashion. One example: Harris Canton Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who leads Texas’ best crawling county, said he affairs to vote for Collier.

But a ancestors altercation won’t accumulate a Republican bounden from accepting re-elected, strategists and adopted admiral predict. Patrick has the accessible abutment of Texas’ top Republicans; his attack boasts the endorsements of both of Texas’ U.S. senators, the governor and all but one Republican accompaniment senator.

“There’s no question” that Patrick will win re-election, said accompaniment Sen. Paul Bettencourt, an accessory of the abettor governor. Bettencourt represents the Houston commune Patrick served until 2014 — heavily overlapping with Emmett’s accommodation — and said he’s assured that Patrick has the abutment of the region. “Dan Patrick is activity to be re-elected. Dan Patrick is actual accepted in the Republican party.”

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Still, if there are disenchanted Republican moderates to be best off, Collier is alive to attach himself to them.

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In a year aback alike Texas Democrats are active as apparent progressives, Collier has charted a added accurate path. His party’s appointee for the U.S. Senate is a above jailbait rocker who went viral for skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot while on the attack trail. For governor, Democrats accept nominated Lupe Valdez, the state’s aboriginal aboveboard gay and Latina applicant to win the nod.

Collier does not ride a skateboard. At 57, he’s spent abundant of his activity alive as an accountant, and he alone afresh committed to the Democratic affair — he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. He seems best adequate talking numbers — “I’m Dan Patrick’s affliction nightmare! I’m a Democrat and an auditor!” he brand to say — and seems beneath sure-footed discussing amusing issues.

On the afterlife penalty, for example, Collier said he is still “evolving” adjoin a added advanced point of view. Collier justifies his abutment for undocumented immigrants in Texas in banking terms, not on moral grounds: They draw about $2 billion in accompaniment assets a year, but accord about $2.7 billion aback through acreage taxes, he says, so, “it doesn’t bother me that they’re here.” His band is agnate on LGBTQ rights. In an account aftermost month, he couldn’t account across-the-board legislation he’d push, but said he did “have in apperception blocking” measures advised adverse to the gay community, like the alleged “bathroom bill.”

“Tolerance and amplitude is acceptable for business,” Collier said, a band he could about accept adopted from Straus.

“Public adversary cardinal one for accessible education”

If Collier is accession himself to draw center-right Republicans aback over the line, accessible apprenticeship may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial amount amid teachers, retired agents and accessible academy parents.

As a above armchair of the Texas Senate’s accessible apprenticeship lath and as the baton of the high chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, abounding of them accessible academy educators, alarm “vouchers” — programs that would accord Texas families subsidies to armamentarium clandestine academy charge for their kids. During aftermost summer’s appropriate session, as the Legislature debated an arrival of banknote for accessible schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion added than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.

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“When you accept 700,000 academy employees, they’re not all activity to be on the aforementioned page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one being out there that they’re best unified about it’s apparently the abettor governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was blame reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t assume to favor class-size restrictions and they really, absolutely do. He absolutely does favor vouchers and they really, absolutely don’t. And the allotment issues accept died in his easily or at his hands.”

Meanwhile, Patrick portrays himself as a best for accessible schools. This summer, afterwards his urging, the Abecedary Retirement Arrangement of Texas autonomous not to accession bloom affliction premiums for retired teachers. In an ad aftermost week, he common his angle to accession abecedary salaries by an boilerplate of $10,000.

“Teachers are added admired than big-ticket barrio and adorned stadiums,” Patrick says in the commercial, continuing on a brilliant acropolis in advanced of a truck. “It’s my priority, it’s best for our kids and it’s the appropriate affair to do.”

But abounding in the accessible apprenticeship association are agnostic about that plan in a arrangement they say is already underfunded. Tracy Fisher, the admiral of Coppell ISD’s lath and a Republican belt armchair in Dallas County, alleged the abettor governor’s angle “deceptive.” He is “public adversary cardinal one for accessible education,” she added.

And the accomplishment hasn’t won Patrick favor from above agents groups, some of whom accept alleged his efforts disingenuous. Collier won the endorsements of the Texas Accompaniment Agents Association and Texas’ affiliate of American Federation of Teachers; AFT admiral Louis Malfaro said Patrick has “tried to badger bounded academy districts.” In its first-ever endorsements of statewide candidates, the accessible apprenticeship accumulation Texas Parent PAC additionally backed Collier, calling Patrick a annoyer and ideologue “who cannot be trusted to assure and strengthen our adjacency accessible schools.”

Patrick’s attack said those groups hardly allege for all Texas teachers. But the incumbent’s contempo abecedary accession ad shows he’s still focused on allure educators.

“While about all the organizations that represent agents are left-leaning and Democrat, in fact, Texas agents acquaint us that best are Republicans who abutment bound security, acreage tax ameliorate and the avant-garde apprenticeship reforms, including career tech, that accept been championed by the Lt. Governor,” said Sherry Sylvester, a top Patrick aide.

Republican architect Brendan Steinhauser said annoyed educators may attenuated Patrick’s allowance of victory, but they won’t abuse it.

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“Do I anticipate that activity is boundless abundant to account affair for Dan Patrick? No,” he said.

A “sleeping giant”?

There are about 700,000 accessible academy advisers in Texas; that cardinal doubles aback you accommodate retirees in the system, and multiplies if you add parents who accede accessible apprenticeship their top voting issue. Collier is counting on that assorted accumulation to aback him as a block — but those voters accept a advanced ambit of backgrounds and political leanings. And they don’t consistently appearance up.

“The apprehension is that agents aloof don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the aftermost brace of elections is that the activity and accord of educators is on the rise.”

Last year, in the deathwatch of disappointments at the Legislature, abounding educators apprenticed to appear calm — including, and especially, beyond affair curve — to abutment pro-public apprenticeship candidates. In the months since, they’ve confused their advancement from the Capitol accomplish to the internet, breadth about 27,000 accept aing a Facebook group, Texans For Accessible Education, whose declared mission is block voting. The group, which color-codes its account of candidates, apparent Collier blooming — “friendly,” “block vote” — and Patrick red: “unfriendly” to accessible education.

Collier is counting on axis them out to vote for him. But that bet has bootless before.

Just ask Jim Largent, who retired as Granbury ISD administrator this year afterwards a bootless primary claiming to accompaniment Rep. Mike Lang, a adolescent North Texas Republican. Active as the pro-public apprenticeship candidate, Largent won aloof 38 percent of the vote. In the Houston area, Fort Bend ISD lath admiral Kristin Tassin suffered the aforementioned fate, demography aloof 27 percent of the vote in a claiming to accompaniment Sen. Joan Huffman that Tassin hoped agents would beat in her favor.

A agnate arrangement emerged in the abettor governor’s race, breadth Patrick was one of aloof a few statewide admiral to draw a austere primary challenger. Patrick’s adversary was Scott Milder, the architect of the advancement accumulation Friends of Texas Accessible Schools, who drew some absorption for bad-mouthing Patrick — he alleged the bounden a “bully,” a “jackass” and alike a “fake conservative” —but remained the bright underdog in banking abutment and name recognition. Milder pushed the Patrick attack to absorb over $5 actor on advertising, but ultimately won aloof beneath a division of Republican primary voters — a abate allotment than either Tassin or Largent. Within canicule of the loss, Milder accustomed Collier.

Looking aback on his attempt, Largent alleged Texas educators the electorate’s “sleeping giant.” The question, he said, is whether in a accepted acclamation they’re added acceptable to deathwatch up.

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“I accept consistently anticipation that Mike had a bigger attempt than I did in the primary,” Milder said. “So few bodies absolutely about-face out in the primary. … But a abundant broader abject of Texans shows up in the general.”

Collier argues that the pro-public apprenticeship voting block he envisions is added acceptable to beat a accepted acclamation than a primary. Considering Democrats and Republicans who backed Milder, added bodies voted adjoin Patrick in the primary than for him, Collier brand to point out.

There is additionally a Libertarian applicant in this fall’s race, Kerry McKennon.

“I do anticipate that my chase is as aggressive as any,” Collier said. “There are activity to be Republicans who break home because they abhorrence Dan Patrick. There are activity to be a lot of Democrats who about-face out because they abhorrence Dan Patrick.”

The incumbent’s aggregation isn’t so abiding of that, admitting they did absorb some $6.5 actor on announcement in the aftermost division to accomplish added sure. They accept history on their ancillary — and history suggests they accept the numbers on their side, too.

At a backing get out the vote assemblage in New Braunfels aftermost week, Patrick projected confidence.

“There are association like us who are activity to accumulate Texas red — who are not activity to let the dejected beachcomber booty us out,” Patrick promised a cheering, bundled-up crowd.

While introducing Patrick, Campbell, the Republican accompaniment senator, summed it up neatly.

“I’ll acquaint you, they are motivated!” she said of Democrats. “But there are added of us than them.”

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Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Accompaniment Agents Association and Texas AFT accept been banking supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, detached account alignment that is adjourned in allotment by donations from members, foundations and accumulated sponsors. Banking supporters comedy no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete account of them here.

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