Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez speaks at the Buffalo Tree Festival earlier this month.
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez speaks at the Buffalo Tree Festival earlier this month.
Melissa Hennings

Texas Gubernatorial Race Stands Out as Missed Opportunity Amid Democratic Successes

There's probably a more delicate way to put it, but former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is getting molly-whopped by incumbent Greg Abbott in their race to be Texas' governor. That's the only takeaway one can draw from the new gubernatorial forecasts published by polling guru Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight on Wednesday.

Valdez, according to Silver's prediction model, has a 0.4 percent chance of beating Abbott, meaning that she's about a 250-to-1 underdog. Silver's model is based on all the polling that's available for a given race, as well as a set of fundamentals including fundraising, past voting in the state and historical trends.

That Valdez is in such a bad spot doesn't come as a surprise, really. She entered the race with little name recognition outside Dallas County and against a popular incumbent candidate with a $40 million campaign war chest. Since entering the race, things have not gotten much better, with Valdez consistently struggling to raise money or earn any media attention.

The governor's race has taken a back seat to the senatorial showdown between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke, as well as several competitive U.S. House races and, among political partisans at least, the attorney general's race between incumbent Ken Paxton and Democratic challenger Justin Nelson. One can argue about whether a governor's race or a Senate campaign is a bigger deal, but Nelson, a previously unknown corporate lawyer running an insurgent campaign against Paxton, out-raised Valdez by about 50 percent in the last quarter.

O'Rourke, like Valdez, faced an opponent with far higher name recognition and a big campaign checking account when he announced he was running for Senate last year, has shattered fundraising records and drawn huge crowds around the state, even in Republican strongholds like Collin and Tarrant counties. Despite a string of negative polls, the FiveThirtyEight model still gives him a very real chance (about 20 percent) of knocking Cruz off.

U.S. House candidates like Colin Allred in North Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher in the Houston area both have even better odds of beating their incumbent Republican opponents, according to Silver's predictor, at 32 and 48 percent respectively.

It's possible, as Nelson, O'Rourke, Allred and Fletcher have shown, for a Democrat to mount a real challenge in Texas. Thanks to shifting demographics and President Donald Trump's relative unpopularity in the state, it seems unlikely that Texas is as Republican as Alabama, but that's what the polling models say, at least when it comes to the governor's race.

Maybe that means Valdez is just a bad candidate — one political strategist the Observer talked to about Valdez's fundraising earlier this year said she wasn't running a "real campaign" — or maybe, as hard as it would be to take for Democrats, a 5-point loss for O'Rourke or Nelson or Allred really is a best-case scenario in Texas' current political environment.

That's what the polls and other data show. It's up to Texas' sleeping demographic monster — the rarely seen but frequently talked about young, midterm voter — to prove them wrong. 

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