What it will take for a Democratic Dallas sheriff to be governor

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced she resigned from her position to run for Governor.

AUSTIN - Lupe Valdez has served as the Sheriff of Dallas County for 13 years, but Wednesday in Austin, she announced her run for Governor.

"I'm in," she told reporters at a press conference.

After the announcement, she thanked the handful of supporters in the room, even dancing and hugging a few.

"Opportunity in Texas ought to be as big as this great state," said Valdez.

Valdez said she's the eighth child of a migrant working family, and later in life, she served in the Army.

"I've lived a life of hard work and service," said Valdez. "I know what it is to have to decide if tuition or a decent place to live will the make the cut this month, but I also know the joy of sharing the little that we have with others."

As Sheriff, she was vocal about disagreeing with Gov. Greg Abbott on issues like immigration and so-called "sanctuary cities."

"We helped build trust in the community," said Valdez. "For the dreamers, if this isn't their country, they don't have a country."

When elected to Sheriff in 2004, she was the state's first openly gay female Hispanic Sheriff.

"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," said Valdez.

Ed Espinoza, the Executive Director of Progress Texas, said it's good to see someone who isn't afraid to speak up about working people and is embracing progressive issues.

He said Valdez can be part of a wave of new progressive candidates taking office like he believes is happening in other states.

"Midterms have been harder for Democrats because progressive voters haven't had a reason to come out. We've tried the republican light, the moderate thing it doesn't work. We have to embrace progressive values," said Espinoza.

But Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said it's going to be an uphill battle for Valdez. 

"It is an immense task and I'm not sure she fully understands just how difficult this will be," said Mackowiak. "She has less than a year to do this, and she's running against a Republican incumbent governor with $40 million dollars in the bank, whose approval ratings are very, very high, in a Republican state."

If Valdez wins the primary in March, she will likely face Governor Greg Abbott in the November election. 

"Until they know who the nominee is I don't think you're going to see them focus too much on the Democrats. The Democrats are pretty irrelevant statewide in Texas. They haven't won a statewide election in Texas since 1994," said Mackowiak. 

"Abbott may have the money, but we're going to have the people," said Valdez. 

For Valdez, she doesn't want to feel that she's going overboard with the spending. 

"I think we're going to raise whatever money is necessary. I don't believe that we need 40, 60, 90 gazillion dollars. I believe that it's going to take whatever is necessary and no more," said Valdez. 

As for Governor Abbott's strategy, Mackowiak said Abbott may rethink a strategy on the issue of immigration, now that Valdez is in the race. 

"You have a Latina candidate that I'm sure will run against Sanctuary cities: the bill that they passed, and perhaps other... related issues. I do know that Gov. Abbott very much wants to win the Latino vote in Texas, and so this may present a little bit more of a challenge for that," said Mackowiak. 

It's a topic that Valdez believes in but one that Jim Henson with the Texas Politics Project said could backfire for her. 

"I think sanctuary cities is going to play into this, but I think it's a tricky issue for a Democratic candidate because while that is an issue that Democrats want to hear about, by in large, at least liberal Latino voters want to hear about that, it also has the counter effect of riling up Republican voters," said Henson. 

According to Henson, the most important issues to Republican voters are immigration and border security. 

"One of the most consistent polling results we've seen in the last six or eight years, of the University of Texas Tribune Poll is when you ask Republican voters, what is the most important problem facing the state? The top two responses are always immigration and border security: to the extent that they were still the top two even after the hurricane. Even the hurricane couldn't blow border security off the minds of Republican voters," said Henson. "Nothing riles up Republican voters like talking about immigration and border security."

But, Henson said this race will likely come down to voter turn out not necessarily the candidates' position on the issues. 

"I think our expectation is that this will be a mobilization election, not a persuasion election," said Henson. "It will be about both parties bringing out their voters, rather than the candidates speaking to the voters; the members of the other party and trying to get them to move. We're not going to see much movement."

"Texas is not a red state, it's a nonvoting state," said Valdez. 

"Yeah that's right, Texas is one of the lowest voter turnout states in America. But the thing that we have to look at is the voter growth. Democrats picked up a half million votes in the last election, and republications barely moved the radar," said Espinoza. 

"It is true our voter participation in Texas is down. A big part of that is voter demographic," said Mackowiak. "They can't just win with democratic voters, they have to turn out Democrats. They have to basically win the independent vote, and they have to win probably about 25 percent of the Republican vote. That is a very, very, very difficult task for Democrats to do particularly when they're working at a disadvantage in a red state like Texas."

"The advantage at this moment is that the people that Greg Abbott has tend to turn out and vote, and the people that Lupe Valdez has and is trying to appeal to, don't vote in such extensive numbers and have to be mobilized. That takes resources that you know her party does not really have," said Henson. 

And that lack of resources for a Texas Democratic candidates, Henson said isn't new. 

"As a democratic candidate, she starts as always with fewer resources," said Henson. "The Democrats are hurting in terms of organizational resources. They're hurting in terms of financial resources. They're hurting in terms of candidates."

Because of that, Henson said it can be tough for the party to find candidates. 

"I think everybody feels like a sacrificial lamb at this point, nobody expects to run and win," said Henson. "What we've seen is a parade of Democratic candidates over the last several cycles that are one run and out."

Henson said Valdez will also face the issue of recognition. While her name may be known in the Dallas area, that's not the case statewide. 

"I think first and foremost she's got to travel around the state and she's got to introduce herself to people," said Henson. "The early polls are going to show that nobody really knows who she is, and so she's got to get out there; she's got to get her name in the news; she's got to get out there and establish herself."

Despite the obstacles stacked against her, Valdez is confident in her run. 

"I've dedicated my life to defending Texas, and I'm not done yet," said Valdez. 

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