The Democratic primary runoff for governor ramped up Tuesday with a debate over debates between Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, the two candidates still standing from the nine-way primary a week ago.
Within the span of a few hours, White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, called for debates with Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, ahead of the May 22 runoff and Valdez signaled an openness to sparring but with far less urgency. White was the runner-up in the March 6 primary with 27 percent of the vote behind Valdez, who drew 43 percent.
"The party’s nominee for governor – whether it’s Lupe or I – should begin spring training now for the fall campaign against Greg Abbott," White said in a statement. "A few debates between the two of us before the runoff would make the eventual nominee all the stronger. And who doesn’t love a good debate?"
As part of its response, Valdez's campaign suggested she was amenable to debating White closer to the runoff date — and took a shot at her rival over the attention-grabbing move.
"We will be glad to work out a debate schedule when the voters become more focused on the race, but this primary won’t be won on 30-second debate responses," Valdez spokesman Kiefer Odell said in a statement. "While we understand why someone who received such low support in most of Texas' major urban areas and the Rio Grande Valley needs a debate to create buzz, Sheriff Valdez is focused on developing substantive relationships with voters across the state — just as she has done in Dallas County for the last 13 years."
Valdez carried many of Texas' biggest metropolitan areas in the primary, while White performed most strongly in Harris County — home to Houston, where he resides — as well as the rest of southeast Texas.
Earlier Tuesday morning, White's campaign had called on the Texas Democratic Party and media outlets to "sponsor" debates between him and Valdez. The party quickly responded that it currently has no plans to do so, noting that it has never put on such events in statewide races.
"We are not the DNC, and we all know it didn’t go so well for them on presidential debates," Manny Garcia, the state party's deputy executive director, said in a statement, alluding to the allegations of bias the Democratic National Committee faced in organizing debates involving the 2016 presidential primary candidates.
After the election last week, The Texas Tribune and two Austin public broadcasting stations, KUT and KLRU, offered to host a debate between Valdez and White in mid-May in Austin. Valdez has not yet agreed to it, while White has.
Valdez and White are competing to take on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a second term.