HOUSTON (CN) — As the votes came in at razor-thin margins Tuesday in Texas, Lupe Valdez sprang ahead in the evening to clinch the Democratic nomination by 6 points and become the first openly gay and first Latina candidate to win a major party nomination for Texas governor.
As Valdez’s opponent, Andrew White, conceded the victory, he said he was “ready to help in any way I can to give [incumbent Republican governor] Greg Abbott an early retirement party.”
The Republican Party has controlled the governor’s seat in Austin since George W. Bush defeated incumbent Democrat Ann Richards in 1994.
Valdez faces a tough battle against Abbott, who already has $41 million in campaign funds at his disposal.
Valdez said she was undeterred by the odds.
“Please tell me when I didn’t have an uphill battle,” she said during her victory speech Tuesday night.
The runoff election came just days after the mass murder of 10 students and teachers at Santa Fe High School, 30 miles south of Houston. Abbott responded to the shooting by organizing a roundtable to discuss the issue. He mentioned some uncontroversial responses, including faster background checks and a “safe gun storage campaign” during a news conference after the shooting Friday, but nothing aggressive in gun-loving Texas.
Valdez, a military veteran, gun owner and former sheriff of Dallas County, suggested closing the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows domestic abusers to keep their guns, and stiffer penalties for lying on a background check.
Turnout for the runoff races was lower than during the March 6 primary, particularly in early voting. A record 602,000 early Democratic ballots were cast in the primary — 25,000 more than Republicans mustered.
By last week, only 3.2 percent of voters had submitted early ballots in the state’s 30 most-populous counties, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Only 415,000 Democrats voted in the runoff: a 60 percent drop from the 1 million who cast ballots during the March 6 primary.
In another high-profile runoff, in west Houston and its suburbs, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher defeated Laura Moser, an activist and writer. Fletcher clinched the Democratic nomination for the 7th Congressional District with 67 percent of the vote. She will face incumbent Republican John Culberson in November.
During the primary, Moser faced criticism from the fundraising arm of the Democratic Party itself, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee published opposition research against her, calling her a “Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress.”
Backlash against the DCCC put Moser in second place in the primary and prevented Fletcher from clinching the nomination outright on March 6.
Culberson is expected to hold his seat in the Republican-leaning district, which straddles Interstate 10 on the west side of Houston.
In the 2nd Congressional District, which circles Houston from the west to the northeast, Republican Dan Crenshaw defeated state Rep. Kevin Roberts by a 2-to-1 margin.
Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, will face Democrat Todd Litton in the general election. Incumbent Republican Ted Poe declined to run for re-election.
In San Antonio’s 21st Congressional District, Republican Chip Roy beat businessman Matt McCall by 5 percentage points. Roy, Senator Ted Cruz’s former chief of staff, will face Democrat Joseph Kosper, a technology entrepreneur, for the seat held by retiring Republican Congressman Lamar Smith.
In Corpus Christi’s 27th Congressional District, former Victoria County Republican Party Chairman Michael Cloud beat Bech Bruun, an attorney and former Texas Water Development Board chairman 61 percent to 39 percent.
Cloud will face former congressional aide Eric Holguin in November, to replace Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold, who resigned on April 6 in the face of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations.
Candidates in both parties will have to navigate a hyperpartisan political arena this year, with support or rejection of President Donald Trump expected to be a major factor in nearly every race in the country.
Republicans hold 25 of Texas’ 36 congressional seats, and both seats in the U.S. Senate.