With the 2018 Texas gubernatorial election looming, nine Democratic candidates are gearing up for the primary in an attempt to dislodge Republican Governor Greg Abbott.
Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project, said he attributed the crowded ballot to lack of a clearly publicized front-runner, even near the end of the filing process.
“At the last minute, there was a pretty big burst of interest,” Blank said. “Some people who maybe would’ve been less inclined to run, had a strong candidate jumped in earlier, ended up running. That seems like that was the case here.”
Sherri Greenberg, a clinical professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said the Democratic candidates’ inexperience is because Republicans have held the majority of statewide offices for years.
“The Democrats have really been out of power so long in statewide offices,” Greenberg said. “There aren’t folks ready and waiting in the wings who clearly command the stage, and you’re seeing that with the governor’s race. There’s not really been somebody who’s lining up and groomed. Because of that you see this situation where you have quite a few people entering but nobody who has been thought of and discussed for a long time as the Democratic nominee for governor.”
However, one candidate has recently generated buzz. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, one of two female sheriffs in Texas and the only openly gay female sheriff in Texas, made headlines when she filed her candidacy in December.
“She’s really one of the only Democratic candidates who has actually run successful elections, and so that’s certainly an advantage for her relative to the other candidates,” Blank said.
However, a compressed primary calendar and limited exposure will challenge all the candidates equally, Blank said.
“The reality is that there’s this very, very tight window with which all of these Democratic candidates have to basically traverse a very, very large state to try to introduce themselves to Democratic voters,” Blank said. “And most voters, even those who show up in the primary — which is a very small number — aren’t going to be fully acquainted with even a handful of the Democratic candidates, let alone all of them.”
According to Blank, the Democratic candidate who makes it past the primary will have another major challenge: campaign finances. None of the Democratic candidates have raised funds comparable to Abbott’s $43 million.
“As far as the general election, Abbott is heavily favored,” Blank said. “Abbott’s advantages are numerous and in some ways excessive. It’s going to be an uphill climb.”
Jeffrey Payne, owner of The Dallas Eagle bar and one of the Democratic candidates, said he was confident he would make it to the general election, even with a fraction of Abbott’s funds.
“$43 million can’t stop Democrats who believe it’s time for a change and I believe it’s going to happen,” Payne said. “At the end of the day we will mobilize the people of Texas, and I want to take action on the issues that matter to state.”