Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff who grew up in San Antonio the youngest of eight children in a family of migrant workers, and Andrew White, who spent his early adolescence growing up in the Texas Governor’s Mansion, the son of Gov. Mark White, will face a May 22 runoff for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Valdez had 42.4 percent of the vote and White had 27.7 percent with nearly all precincts reporting by 1 a.m.. A candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
“I am just really humbled that so many Texans who are ready for a change are giving me the opportunity to lead that change,” Valdez told supporters at a Dallas County Democratic Party election night celebration at Dallasite, a shot-and-a -beer neighborhood bar with a strong union pedigree.
“The last few months we have discovered that all of Texas is excited and energized by change,” Valdez said. “My little truck has been through the ringer as it helped us get across the state to hear from the people of Texas.”
“Opportunity in Texas should be as big as the Texas sky, no matter where they come from,” Valdez said.
Valdez told the American-Statesman that while she would have liked to win the race without the necessity of a runoff, “if we’re in a runoff that just gives me another opportunity to show the people who I am, a better opportunity to express the things we want to do.”
Did she worry that a runoff could turn mean and mutually destructive?
“That’s not me,” Valdez said, adding that she thought she and White would keep the campaign on a high plane.
“I would certainly hope so,” she said. “I think we’re intelligent enough that we can do that.”
But White spoke more sharply in an interview with the Statesman at his election night event in Houston.
“I’d like to hear more about what Lupe’s positions are,” White said. “Her website has two or three positions. I don’t know where she stands on anything else.”
“If she’s not going to let us know then I’m going to keep on talking about the positions that I hold and the vision I have for the state,” White said. “My hope is we’ll get a chance to debate. At this point you can’t really do that when you have nine candidates. But when there’s two, then there should be several debates.”
But addressing supporters in an 11-minute primary night speech, White didn’t mention Valdez, instead training his fire on Republicans in general and Abbott in particular, and talking about the task at hand.
“There’s a blue wave building,” he said. “Let’s keep this momentum going. My fellow Democrats, if winning in November is important to you, I’m your candidate. I’m confident that I can speak to the hearts and the minds of my fellow Texans,” White said. “With a fair hearing, this will be a race that will be honored and remembered. Let’s go make a little history. Let’s bring sanity and reason back to our state government. Let’s do right and risk the consequences.”
The rest of the Democratic vote was divided among seven other candidates: Adrian Ocegueda, Cedric Davis Sr., Grady Yarbrough, James Jolly Clark, Jeffrey Payne, Joe Mumbach and Tom Wakely. Valdez thanked White and her seven other rivals for a competition that she said benefited them all.
The winner of the runoff will face Gov. Greg Abbott, who easily defeated two little-known candidates, receiving roughly nine out of every 10 votes.
Either Valdez, who pursued a career in corrections and law enforcement before being elected sheriff in 2004, or White, a Houston entrepreneur and investor, would face long odds against Abbott, who won his first term in 2014, defeating state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth by 20 percentage points.
But Abbott strategist David Carney said that, unlike four years ago, Republicans in Texas will be confronting political headwinds in a midterm election in which Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House. President Donald Trump is certain to energize Democratic voters across the country, Carney said.
The Valdez and White campaigns embody the competing strategies being employed by Democrats as they seek to harness anti-Trump energy. Valdez, Hispanic and lesbian, looks to stir the party’s base and rouse the slumbering giant of Latino voter participation. Texas Latinos still lag far behind both whites and blacks in voter turnout.
White is presenting himself as a middle-of-the-road candidate who can appeal to voters alienated not just by Trump but what he views as the commensurate extremism of Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Texas Republicans, who he believes have turned off many mainstream Republican and independent voters.
Whether it’s White or Valdez, Carney said, “that person is going to do really well. They don’t have to leave their house. In fact they might do better not to leave their house. The energy that is out there wants to go somewhere.”
“That was an easy election,” Carney said of 2014. “This will not be easy.”
But Abbott and his campaign will take nothing for granted. Abbott is a prodigious, record-breaking fundraiser, with $41 million in the bank as of late last month, even after spending $5.7 million so far this year, feverishly replenishing his coffers at every opportunity. Even as he has moved to become the dominant political figure in Texas, he has stoked controversy, and spent some of his political and monetary capital backing friendly lawmakers and seeking to defeat three Republican incumbent members of the Texas House – Sarah Davis of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio and Wayne Faircloth of Galveston — who met with his displeasure.
By contrast, as of Feb. 26, White had $944,000 in the bank, and Valdez $57,900.
White, the married father of three, lives in Houston’s Upper Kirby neighborhood.
Valdez lives in Dallas’ Oak Park borough with her partner, Lindsay Browning, a chiropractor who owns Urban Hippie Chiropractic.
Both candidates are virtual unknowns statewide, hobbled by very late starts to their campaign.
While a runoff could exacerbate hard feelings between the candidates, it would also offer the two candidates desperately needed exposure and preparation for a fall campaign.
Staff writer Ken Herman contributed to this report from Houston.