Latina underdog for Texas House seat picks up steam

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The only Hispanic challenger for a Texas House seat in 2020 broke her district’s single-quarter fundraising record for a Democrat, surpassing a high achieved 15 years ago, according to preliminary numbers from the campaign.

Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member, is facing a July runoff election against fellow Democrat Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, in the race to replace retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas).

The winner of that runoff will face off in November against Republican Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor and Trump administration official seeking to keep the now-swing district red.

Valenzuela, who forced a runoff against Olson in the March 3 primary, says her campaign raised more than $305,000 between January and March.

The once-homeless Valenzuela has also racked up big-name endorsements, including former Housing Secretary and presidential candidate Julián Castro, Bold PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) campaign arm, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and EMILY’s List, an influential pro-choice political advocacy group.

“We’re excited about her. We think she’s a great fit for that district. And she made it into the runoff and we feel strongly that she’s going to come out victorious in the second step of this process,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), the chairman of Bold PAC.

Many of Valenzuela’s endorsers, including Bold PAC and EMILY’s List, took the unusual step of betting on her ahead of the primary — six Democrats were competing for the nomination — and doubling down on her ahead of the runoff against Olson.

“We think Candace is the best candidate to carry that seatin the fall,” said Benjamin Ray, a spokesman for Emily’s List.

The two candidates are progressive women who got their political start as school board members, running in a once-ruby red suburban district, but that’s where their similarities end.

In 2018, Olson lost a statewide race to become Texas agriculture commissioner against Republican Sid Miller in a campaign that dragged out her role in an Iraq war-profiteering scandal in 2016.

Following a Pentagon investigation, Olson was allowed to keep her rank and an honorable discharge, but took a deal pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Cárdenas said Valenzuela is “a perfect fit” for the district, and warned Republicans are eager to once again take a stab at Olson’s past.

“Whoever wins this primary is gonna have to run against the Republicans. When I say it’s about Republicans, it’s because this is a fight where the party, the state party, etc., is going to get involved. So you’re not just running against a person, you’re running against the Republican Party,” said Cárdenas.

“One of the reasons why people haven’t gotten negative on Candace is because she’s a good, wholesome person who is a mom, a wife, an energetic young woman who’s ready to represent that district and she’s represented it already on the school board,” he added.

Still, Valenzuela remains an underdog in the race.

Olson’s campaign did not release their first quarter fundraising numbers, but campaign manager Rachel Perry touted Olson’s first-place standing in the March primary.

“Colonel Olson won the primary by 11 points, won the two largest counties, and won 65 percent of all precincts in the district. Our fundraising, grassroots energy, and organizing efforts are stronger than ever and we are confident that our continued momentum will propel Colonel Olson to another victory in the runoff,” Perry said.

Perry’s counterpart in the Valenzuela campaign, Geoff Simpson, said the first quarter fundraising figures are important, but said Valenzuela has an advantage in reaching the district’s diverse population.

“The key to it is we’re putting together a diverse coalition of support, which is what you need to win this minority-majority district,” said Simpson.

“What people miss about this district, it is similar to other suburban districts, but this district is majority minority, it’s a very diverse district and we need somebody who’s going to excite the very diverse set of voters,” he added

And like campaigns across the country, the fight for the 24th District of Texas has run into an unpredictable obstacle in the coronavirus pandemic.

Simpson said Valenzuela has taken to almost-daily Facebook live appearances, in the absence of in-person meetings with constituents, a duty that must now be juggled with in-house child care.

Valenzuela said the crisis has shown the challenges faced by everyday working families.

“What the past few weeks have shown is that now more than ever we need empathetic leaders, who will put Texan families first and lower health care costs, raise wages and ensure a good education for every child,” said Valenzuela.

“We need leaders who care about doing the work to serve the working-class people who make our community strong, and not who gets the credit. I’m proud of the coalition we’re building, and I’ll be honored to work as hard for them in Washington as they do every day in Texas,” she added.

Tags Bold PAC Candace Valenzuela Congressional Hispanic Caucus election 2020 EMILY's List House Kenny Marchant runoff Texas Texas elections
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