Hispanic Caucus all in with Latina in crowded Texas primary

Hispanic Caucus all in with Latina in crowded Texas primary
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) campaign arm is all-in in its backing of a Texas Latina Democrat running in a crowded Dallas-area House primary, as few top-tier Hispanic candidates have so far made an impression in 2020 races.

Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member, is among seven Democrats competing for the party's nomination to chase the House seat left open by the retirement of Rep. Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantHouse GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment Ethics sends memo to lawmakers on SCIF etiquette Ethics panel investigating Rep. Hastings over relationship with staffer MORE (R-Texas).

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"Candace's life experience and commitment to making education an equalizer for children in her community are only a few of the reasons why Candace will make a great colleague in Congress," said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), chairman of Bold PAC, the CHC's campaign arm.

"As the only Latina running in a competitive open seat in Texas this cycle, Bold PAC is proud to endorse and support her campaign and will continue to help build a coalition around her race," he added.

Bold PAC commissioned a poll of primary voters in the district to determine the strength of Valenzuela's candidacy.

According to the poll, 14 percent of baseline Democratic primary voters in the district favored Valenzuela, while 12 percent favored her nearest rival, Kim Olson, who was the Democratic nominee for Texas Agricultural Commissioner in 2018.

"[The candidates have] a lot of similarities in accomplishments, but because Candace is the only Latina, we think if she could consolidate that base that could give her a leg up," said Albert Morales, political director at Latino Decisions, the firm that conducted the poll.

Attorney Crystal Fletcher came in third with 10 percent support, and Jan McDowell — the 2018 Democratic nominee for the seat — was picked by 9 percent of respondents.

The candidates are not yet well known, according to Morales, so Latino Decisions provided respondents with biographical data on Valenzuela.

Respondents who heard Valenzuela's biography were more likely to support her; 29 percent of those respondents said they supported Valenzuela, while 8 percent supported Olson.

The Hill obtained a memo from Latino Decisions to Cárdenas recommending Valenzuela run on her personal history and focus on issues like health care.

"Our respondents reacted positively to specific points from Valenzuela’s biography, namely those that emphasized overcoming her early hardships," reads the Latino Decisions memo.

Valenzuela is among the few Hispanic primary candidates to stand out in competitive districts nationwide ahead of 2020.

"If you're looking for Latinos or Latinas running for Congress in competitive races it's slim pickings," Morales told The Hill.

After two straight elections of aggressive expansion, Bold PAC is pivoting toward defending the CHC's 37 incumbents, and will likely look to support Latinos in retiring Democratic Rep. José Serrano's New York City district and California's 25th district, left open by the resignation of Rep. Katie HillKatherine (Katie) Lauren HillSanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Pelosi endorses Christy Smith in bid to replace Katie Hill MORE (D-Calif.) last weekend.

In the last two cycles, Bold PAC has also expanded its network of support among non-CHC Democratic candidates.

But despite what looks to be a wide-open House race in Texas — in part thanks to higher Hispanic voter participation — Valenzuela is so far the lone Latina newcomer running in the Lone Star State.

"When we talk about Latino turnout in Texas, it is not enough to say we plan on engaging Latino voters. We also have to be committed to putting people on the ballot that reflect and understand our communities as well," said Cárdenas.

Texas's 24th congressional district is an example of shifting political attitudes in the state.

Marchant, one of six retiring House Republicans from Texas, has represented the suburban Dallas-area district since 2004.

Marchant's 2018 showing was the weakest of his political career, beating Democratic nominee McDowell by a little more than 3 points.

The 24th district, ranked by the Cook Political Report as an R+9 but a toss-up for 2020, is 25 percent Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Democrats see an opportunity to pick up a number of House seats in Texas in 2020 as they did in California in 2018, particularly as Hispanic voters are driven to higher participation.

"The reason Texas is this year's California for the [Democrats] is because you have a handful of these districts that came close last cycle without fielding strong candidates," said Morales.