Texas Elections 2018

Andrew White Gains Momentum In Quest For Democratic Nomination For Governor

The Houston entrepreneur has pulled even with his most likely rival, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, but a crowded field means the Democratic primary may go to a runoff. And the winner will still be a longshot against Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in November.

White and dog
Andrew White, Democratic candidate for governor, and his pet Bernedoodle, Izzie.

When Houston entrepreneur Andrew White entered the Democratic race for governor, he was seen as an underdog. Top state party leaders leaned heavily toward his main rival for the nomination, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. But in recent weeks, experts say the momentum has shifted. And White says he knows why.

“The question that Democratic primary voters are asking themselves at the end of the day is, ‘Which candidate can beat Greg Abbott?’” says White. “That candidate is somebody who can raise money.” White raised $1.1 million dollars in January, including a million-dollar loan he made his own campaign. That not only dwarfs Valdez’s efforts – its more than all his rivals for the Democratic nomination put together.

White also says his business experience makes him the Democrats’ best hope to compete against Abbott, with his statewide machine and his massive war chest. “I know how to build a team,” he says. “And I know how to compete against multi-billion-dollar companies, ′cause I did that, and I did it successfully.”

What he hasn’t done is run for office before. His political education came from watching his father, Mark White, who served as Texas Secretary of State and state Attorney General before becoming one of the Texas’s last Democratic governors. Andrew White says he never wanted a political career. That changed last summer.

“My father passed away a few months ago,” he says. “At his funeral, I looked out, and I saw our current governor and current lieutenant governor, who had just called a special session [of the Legislature] to pass a bathroom bill.”

White says they represent a Republican Party that has shifted too far to the right, a party that’s ignoring education and healthcare, issues most Texans want to see addressed. “They’re tired of the craziness,” he says, “whether it’s Donald Trump’s craziness or Greg Abbott’s craziness or Lieutenant Governor [Dan] Patrick’s craziness. They’re tired of that extremism driving our state into the wrong direction, the wrong issues.”

White’s opponents within the Democratic Party suggest he’s not the best person to be making that argument in 2018. Critics – including former State Senator Wendy Davis, the Democrats’ 2014 nominee – contend he’s not progressive enough. Then there’s his background: White is an Anglo running against Latina, in a state with a rapidly growing Hispanic population.

“There are two schools of thought within the Democratic Party about how to return to majority status,” says Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “One is more focused on identity politics, and its goal is to get more Latinos and African-Americans to turn out to vote.” In that case, White represents the party’s past, while candidates like Valdez represent its future.

The other school of thought says, while it’s important to mobilize minority voters, to win, Democrats also need to draw disaffected Republicans and independents.

“The Democratic establishment, the entrenched Democratic elite, hasn’t provided much in the way of movement for Democrats, and so his idea of being an outsider is that he can actually do it in a way that many Democratic insiders, people who’ve been officeholders for years, cannot,” says Jones.

Over the past week, White has picked up endorsements from not only The Houston Chronicle but also The Dallas Morning News, Valdez’s hometown paper. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus also backed White over Valdez, an openly gay candidate. Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, suggests that indicates White’s approach is working.

“It’s not so much that the endorsements are that critical in swaying voters, but it is the case that a narrative has hardened that he’s more competent for the job than her,” says Rottinghaus.

There are seven other candidates in the field besides Valdez and White, increasing the likelihood the primary could go to a May runoff. If White makes it through all that, he’ll face Greg Abbott. He’s under no illusions that will be easy.

“I get that this is a David-and-Goliath-type scenario, where we’re outmoneyed and we’re outgunned,” says White. “But don’t forget: David won that fight, and we’re going to win this one too.”

There’s one other factor White is counting on. Every other day, he says, President Trump tweets something that makes people angry. And when people are angry, they vote.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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