Why Texas Democrat Lupe Valdez’s Governor Primary Win Is So Monumental

It was a historic moment. During Tuesday's Democratic primary runoff election in Texas, governor candidate Lupe Valdez became the first Latina, openly gay candidate to win a major-party gubernatorial nomination in the state.

"I am constantly hearing this is going to be such an uphill battle," Valdez told her supporters in Dallas after she won the nomination. "Please, tell me when I didn't have an uphill battle. ... I am getting darned good at uphill battles."

To obtain the nomination, Valdez had to defeat businessman Andrew White, whose personal views against abortion made him a controversial candidate. In November, Valdez will face off against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has already raised more than $40 million in his reelection campaign.

After he lost the Democratic nomination to Valdez, White pledged his full support to her campaign, saying that he is "ready to help in any way I can to give Greg Abbott an early retirement party." It was a close race, according to The Texas Tribune; Valdez defeated White by approximately five percentage points. During her subsequent victory speech, Valdez pledged to her supporters that she would pave the way for a living wage and more accessible health care.

Abbott, however, was quick to go after Valdez. On Tuesday night, after the Democratic primary runoff, the governor's reelection campaign released a video suggesting that Valdez frequently backtracked on policy ideas. In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Abbott spokesman Alejandro Treviño accused Valdez of struggling to decide whether or not she would raise taxes on Texans, and insisted that "she is wrong for Texas."

Valdez — who is 70 years old — is the daughter of migrant farm workers, and she told Dallas Morning News that people have frequently underestimated her. Her biggest challenge going into the general gubernatorial election will reportedly be to convince political insiders in Texas that she has a firm grasp on state policies. Moreover, she has to convince voters that she would make a better choice than Abbott in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic governor in almost 30 years, according to a local ABC affiliate.

Valdez's history as a law enforcement official has both helped and harmed her campaign. She initially worked as a jailer at the county and federal levels before taking on investigative roles in various government agencies. Then from 2005 to 2017, Valdez was the sheriff of Dallas County — where she received significant support during Tuesday's runoff — and when she was first elected, she was the country's only Latina sheriff, according to Huffington Post.

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Valdez's supporters think her experience as a federal agent and sheriff make her a qualified candidate, but Latinx activists have criticized Valdez for cooperating extensively with federal immigration officials in the past. On her official website, however, Valdez argues that she has "been fighting Governor Abbott’s anti-immigrant policies for years," and vowed to continue standing up for immigrant communities. Valdez also touts her 42-year career in law enforcement, and has dedicated a section of her website to border security.

Despite the scrutiny that Valdez has faced from Democrats on the topic of immigration, she largely aligns with other members of her party on issues like women's health, LGBTQ equality, and education. Now, it is her Republican opponent that will pose the biggest challenge in the coming months. While Abbott has already raised millions of dollars, Valdez struggled to raise even $500,000 during her six-month campaign. Nonetheless, Valdez remains optimistic; she believes that she will more easily be able to raise campaign funds now that she has obtained the Democratic nomination.

"I am the candidate of the average, everyday Texan," she said in her victory speech on Tuesday. "And I will never, never, never stop working for you."