The race for the State Capitol: Who to keep an eye on in the Texas gubernatorial primary

Sami Sparber

With the gubernatorial primary election less than two weeks away, pollsters and pundits agree Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t face much competition from the Republican ballot. However, of the nine candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, a clear front-runner has yet to emerge.

Abbott, running for a second term, is challenged by retired teacher Barbara Krueger and telecommunications consultant Larry Kilgore. Kilgore, a perennial candidate, is identified on the ballot as SECEDE Kilgore — a nod to his support of Texas leaving the Union.

With 95 percent of the vote, a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll revealed Abbott is miles ahead of his Republican primary opponents. Krueger came in with five percent of the vote, while Kilgore had zero.

The Dallas Morning News endorsed Abbott as “the only responsible choice” in the GOP primary for governor, pointing to his compassionate leadership in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and his contributions to sustain Texas’ economic success.

The Democratic ballot, on the other hand, is comprised of nine little-known individuals. Lupe Valdez, former Dallas County Sheriff, is the only candidate who has held elective office. In 2004, she became the first openly gay, Hispanic female sheriff in the country.

Valdez leads the UT/TT poll with 43 percent of the vote. Houston businessman Andrew White came in second place, with 24 percent. The other seven candidates trail moderately behind, with no individual winning more than seven percent of the vote.

These numbers establish Valdez and White as front-runners in the competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary, but pundits debate which candidate is the stronger contender.

Citing his collaborative spirit and adeptness in understanding the state’s complex challenges, the Morning News endorsed White, son of the late Texas Gov. Mark White, as “far and away the better choice” in the crowded race.

While the Morning News editorial board said they initially had high hopes for Valdez, they ultimately were “disappointed by her gross unfamiliarity with state issues … particularly an almost incoherent attempt to discuss state financing.”

Patrick Svitek, primary political correspondent for the Texas Tribune, said while Valdez’s experience gives her a comparative advantage, “she faces no guarantee of the kind of cakewalk to her party’s nomination that former state Sen. Wendy Davis enjoyed in 2014.”

However, Svitek said regardless of who emerges victorious in the competitive primary, ousting Abbott in November would require “a herculean effort.”

At the end of 2017, Abbott had a record-breaking $43.3 million on hand for his re-election campaign — 1,000 times more cash than Valdez, who had $40,346 by the same time. Valdez was also outraised by White, who had $104,475 on hand by the end of the year.

Abbott, who hasn’t lost a statewide election in nearly three decades, likely won’t be losing any sleep over the gubernatorial primary. But for Valdez and White, it’s a fight to the finish — and winning the Democratic primary is just the beginning.