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Lupe Valdez and Andrew White will advance to a runoff in the Democratic primary for governor.
Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, led White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, by 16 percentage points — 43 percent to 27 percent, with 83 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night. They were far ahead of the seven other Democrats vying to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who easily bested two little-known challengers with 90 percent of the vote.
"I am really humbled that so many Texans who are ready for a change are giving me the opportunity to lead that change," Valdez said at her election night rally in Dallas. "Competition makes us stronger and I am grateful to all the other candidates for helping us all get stronger."
White rallied his supporters in his hometown of Houston, predicting a "blue wave" in November while pressing his long-held argument that he is the best candidate to take on Abbott.
"We beat the expectations tonight, and we’re going to do it again in May, and we’re going to do it again in November," White said. "This is going to be a David-vs-Goliath fight — and remember, David won that fight. And we’re going to win this one too."
The runoff is set for May 22. Whoever becomes the Democratic nominee will face a daunting challenge in trying to topple Abbott, who is seeking a second term. He remains the most popular statewide elected official and has a whopping $41 million in his campaign coffers.
The Democratic primary for governor was slow to take off last year, with bigger names — such as U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and his brother, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro — declining to run. Valdez and White did not enter the race until days before the December filing deadline, and by then it was a crowded, muddled affair featuring seven other less-prominent contenders.
The ensuing few months brought out a couple of clear distinctions between the two candidates. As Valdez's fundraising flopped, White emerged as the race's financial leader, buoyed by a $1 million loan to himself but also receiving more contributions than Valdez. White also picked up endorsements from the editorial boards of some of the biggest newspapers in the state, all of which indicated dissatisfaction with Valdez's preparedness and policy knowledge.
Still, she received support from a number of traditionally Democratic groups, such as the Texas AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood. She also got the endorsement of Joaquin Castro and several other prominent Democratic officials.
It has not been entirely smooth sailing for White, either. Since word of his interest in the race got out in November, he has been dogged by questions about his personal stance against abortion. That makes some Democrats uneasy, though he has insisted he respects a woman's right to choose and has promised he would not pursue further abortion restrictions if elected.
The seven other Democratic gubernatorial candidates on the ballot were Austin businessman James Jolly Clark, former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis, Houston businessman Joe Mumbach, Dallas investment adviser Adrian Ocegueda, Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne, former congressional candidate Tom Wakely of San Antonio and Grady Yarbrough, a perennial candidate who unexpectedly won the Democratic nomination for railroad commissioner in 2016.