On Tuesday night, Lupe Valdez came out ahead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary runoff, beating her challenger Andrew White. Valdez didn’t manage to win an endorsement by JOLT, an emerging young Latino advocacy group, but she still earned more votes than White.
“So there was a lot of rumbling there,” says Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, lecturer at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs. “But I think what happened at the end of the day is the fact that older people vote. And JOLT, being a youth advocacy organization, just wasn’t able to muster the enthusiasm and young Latinos to get out and vote for White, who they had endorsed.”
Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t skip a beat after Valdez was declared the runoff victor Tuesday night. He released another attack ad calling Valdez wrong for Texas, and highlighting some of the bad press she’s gotten in recent months.
“I think Abbott clearly got the candidate he wanted,” says Gromer Jeffers, political writer for Dallas Morning News. “He injected himself in this runoff really early on, sort of declaring Valdez the winner before she was actually the winner. He sees, for whatever reason, Valdez as someone easier to run against than White.”
Jeffers says White could have been more likely to attract moderate Republican voters than Valdez. She’ll have her own supporters, though.
“Hispanic voters will be with her,” Jeffers says. “The base of the Democratic party will be with her. Probably won’t be enough, but it will be tough for [Abbott] to get what he wants, which is to win the Hispanic vote over a Hispanic candidate.”
Looking back on the White campaign, Jeffers says that White was likely too conservative to win Democratic primary voters and his strong showing was due to Valdez’s stumbles.
Abby Livingston, Washington bureau chief for the Texas Tribune, says the Democratic party is in an unusual position this year – typically the gubernatorial candidate would lead the party, but Rep. Beto O’Rourke is playing that role in his Senate race, not Valdez. Livingston says that among Texas congressional races, most of the attention went to a contentious district in the Houston area.
“The two candidates were Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, an attorney who left Houston to go to college and law school and then came back, and then Laura Moser. They both actually went to the same high school. [Moser] left after high school and didn’t come back until a year ago and ran for Congress,” Livingston says. “And the House Democratic campaign arm called the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in late February dumped a bunch of opposition research on Laura Moser because they believed she was unelectable in the fall and they wanted to avoid her getting to the runoff.”
Livingston says most voters weren’t even aware of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, before that, but there was a significant backlash against the perceived intrusion into a local race. Despite the controversy, Pannill Fletcher won her runoff by a significant margin.
Meanwhile, eyes were also on District 23, which tends to swing back and forth between parties.
“Nowadays, when districts are either solidly red or solidly blue, this is the anomaly,” DeFrancesco Soto says. “So we have a moderate Republican in office, Will Hurd, and as of last night he is going to have a challenger, a formidable challenger, Gina Ortiz Jones.”
DeFrancesco Soto says Hurd and Ortiz Jones are both well-liked candidates with similar backgrounds, which will make for a very competitive race in November.
“I think I’m going to put my money on Ortiz Jones because, again, this Year of the Woman 2.0,” DeFrancesco Soto says. “There’s a lot of frustration from the #metoo movement, if we think back about the women’s marches. So women want to see themselves represented and this is one of the few opportunities where they really can push it over the line.”
Abby Livingston says a Washington-based anti-taxation advocacy organization called Club for Growth also did well in the runoffs.
“They endorsed four candidates, and three won,” Livingston says. “Chip Roy, [won] TX-21, which takes in parts of Austin and goes down to San Antonio. Ron Wright, based in Tarrant County, and Michael Cloud in Corpus Christi. These are folks who are probably going to be troublemakers for whomever is the Republican leader.”
Livingston says these Republicans have candidates running against them in the general election, but there would need to be a tsunami of support in order for these races to become competitive.
Gromer Jeffers says the top questions now are about the so-called “blue wave” that could flip seats from Republican to Democratic.
“How big will it be? Is it real?” he says. “Usually [Democrats] get clobbered in midterms, but will anti-Trump sentiment and all that translate into a wave and how big will it be?”
Written by Jen Rice.