Giving Democrats their highest-profile candidate for the state’s top race, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez launched her campaign for governor Wednesday after better-known politicians took a pass against a well-funded GOP incumbent in a strongly Republican state.
Valdez entered a crowded 2018 Democratic primary against at least seven other filed or announced candidates, but she entered as a front-runner — a status made evident by the mass of reporters who attended her press event at state party headquarters in downtown Austin and the immediate attention she got from Gov. Greg Abbott and his campaign.
Saying Democratic support exists if voters can be roused, Valdez downplayed GOP dominance in Texas, including Abbott’s 20-point victory over Democrat Wendy Davis in the 2014 race.
“Texas is not a red state, it’s a nonvoting state,” she said. “Common, everyday Texans need to hear our voice, and we need to hear their voice. Abbott may have the money, we’re going to have the people.”
Valdez has a history of sparring with Abbott, tangling with the governor in 2015 over immigration policies and criticizing Senate Bill 4, which Abbott signed into law earlier this year, as “anti-immigrant grandstanding” for penalizing cities and counties that decline to help enforce federal immigration laws.
Abbott’s campaign was quick off the mark, publicizing his endorsement by the Dallas Police Association and releasing a video that likened the Democrats’ search for a top candidate to a dating site where all the best matches were unavailable, with Valdez emerging as an eagerly embraced afterthought.
With almost $41 million in the bank but eager to raise more, Abbott’s campaign also jumped at the chance to have a leading candidate to pillory.
“It’s been a merry-go-round for the Texas Democrat Party in their pursuit for a candidate for governor, and after a dizzying search, they have finally fielded a team of far-left liberals ready to battle in the primary,” said John Wittman, spokesman for Texans for Greg Abbott.
For Democrats, Valdez might not be a top-tier candidate like Julián or Joaquin Castro or Davis, but she is in the “credible tier,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.
“Given the paucity of interest in the Democratic nomination for governor, Lupe Valdez is a pretty good ‘get’ for Democrats,” Jones said. “It puts them in a better position than if they had a complete unknown running for governor in terms of mobilizing turnout and in terms of presenting themselves as a credible political party.
“She especially helps them with one of their strategies, which is to mobilize the Latino turnout and win a larger proportion of Latino voters,” Jones said. “On the other hand, she’s unlikely to help with their principal weakness, which is among Anglo voters.”
First, however, Valdez will have to survive a Democratic primary that will include Andrew White, a businessman and son of a former Democratic governor, the late Mark White, who plans to launch his campaign Thursday in Houston. Tom Wakely, a Bernie Sanders supporter from San Antonio, and Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne also have been actively courting grass-roots support, Jones said.
“I don’t think we can say she’s a lock to win the Democratic primary right now, although she is the clear favorite,” Jones said.
As required by state law, Valdez submitted her resignation after 13 years as sheriff to Dallas County commissioners Wednesday morning, then flew to Austin to file her candidacy paperwork with the state Democratic Party.
She introduced herself as a former migrant farmworker who worked her way through college and a U.S. Army veteran with about three decades of law enforcement experience.
“Good government is about finding solutions to real problems, not putting a spin on lies and creating fear. We’re here to make people’s lives better, not hurt them,” Valdez said, peppering her remarks with Spanish.
“Opportunity in Texas ought to be as big as this great state, but for far too long hard-working Texans have been left behind, kept out and frankly attacked for who they are, where they come from and who they love,” she said.
Valdez said she looked forward to kitchen-table conversations with voters about issues that matter most to them.
“I know what it is to have to decide if food or rent will get the funds. I know what it is to have to decide if tuition or a decent place to live will make the cut this week,” she said. “This is about the common, everyday Texan who needs to have a voice, and we’re about to give them a voice.”
The primaries are in March, the general election in November.