Best of the Primary Runoff Election
Best Texas Senate Campaign
Best Texas House Campaign
Texas Congressional Campaign
July 24, 2020
Dallas Democrat Candace Valenzuela clearly owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the coronavirus for a historic victory last week in the primary runoff election in an open congressional race that's one of her national party's top targets in 2020. As a candidate who'd finished 13 points in March behind an overtime foe who'd had a superior war chest and advantages from the outset, Valenzuela got a major break when the pandemic got under way in Texas several days after the initial election and prompted the eventual shifting of the overtime vote from late May to the middle of July. The seven-week delay bought valuable time for Valenzuela and other Super Tuesday runner ups while essentially sending all of the surviving candidates back to the starting gates for a marathon second round on a playing field from another universe.
Valenzuela had shown signs of a surge in the making after a late start when she finally piqued the attention of Democrats at the national level as a consequence of the history-making potential that she had in a district with a rapidly-growing number of minorities and shrinking percentage of white people. In a runoff duel with a white woman with an establishment personna in Kim Olson, Valenzuela would be the portrait of diversity as a candidate who has a chance to become the first congressional representative who's part black and Hispanic as well. Progressives who love AOC would find it hard not to feel pretty much the same about the contender for the seat that Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant of Coppell held for almost 16 years but didn't think he could successfully defend with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket this fall.
A Texas House member for 18 years before a promotion to the federal post in 2004, Marchant had become accustomed to re-election bid with Democrats as no more than token names on the ballot during his first dozen years as a congressman. Marchant had defeated Democrat Jan McDowell by 17 points just four years ago - and the last thing he'd been expecting in a rematch in 2018 was actual competition like he encountered when she came within three points of knocking him off. Marchant decided to pull the plug on a re-election race that he'd been planning to run to eliminate the chance of having his career end in a loss to a recycled candidate like McDowell. If Marchant had worried that the two-time challenger might be too competitive for his tastes in a third bite at the apple, he would be absolutely aghast now at the thought of running against Valenzuela with the blue wave that he'd envisioned when he cut bait in midstream starting to look more like a realignment tsunami shaping up with three months to build force.
Valenzuela eliminated McDowell from the Congressional District 24 contest in the opening round when she advanced to the runoff with 30 percent compared to a mere 10 percent that Marchant's last foe received on March 3. Despite a double-digit Olson lead at the outset of OT, Valenzuela emerged from the pre-pandemic election with considerable momentum and national organizations like Emily's List and the black and Hispanic congressional caucuses taking an interest in her campaign and showing their love with money. Valenzuela appeared to be gaining ground for the first two and a half months of a runoff that the virus had forced the candidates to run online for the most part.
While the contagion gave runner ups like Valenzuela a fresher lease on life for round two, the coronavirus wasn't Valenzuela's biggest ally in the twilight zone of primary runoff politics in the Lone Star State's first election in the midst of a pandemic since 1918 when the Spanish Flu was the rage. But the virus paved the way for the protests that erupted several days after the original runoff date - and Valenzuela seized on the magic of the moment with a whirlwind final month that she used to showcase her unique qualification that seemed tailor-made for the highly turbulent climate that would fuel the turnout for the runoff vote.
Olson had a much higher profile in state political circles as the Democratic nominee who lost to Republican Texas Agriculture Sid Miller in 2018 by less than five points - a major achievement for a Democrat in a statewide race until the last election. As a retired Air Force colonel, Olson had a resume that might have lost a bit of luster during the George Floyd demonstrations after Trump ordered a tear gas assault on peaceful protesters at the White House where they were blocking his path to a photo op.
But Valenzuela was simply tougher in the trenches and ready to play rough despite the original leader's promise to stay positive throughout overtime. With the help of groups based in Washington, Valenzuela found ways to expose the imperfections in an otherwise stellar Olson bio including a stint as Dallas school official during a time of trouble for the district. Valenzuela's camp astutely played the carpetbagger card by highlighting the fact that Olson had been living in Mineral Wells in a different congressional district when she'd been on the ballot in the statewide race less than two years ago.
Valenzuela had the basics with three years on the local school board to go with a rags-to-riches story that includes life as a homeless child for a brief period when her parents split up. Valenzuela was able to tell it with more than a million dollars that she raised with help from D.C. - and while she ended up with only two-thirds as much as Olson had to spend on the race - she rounded up more than the OT foe in the first full three months of the pandemic with more than $472,000 in donations.
Valenzuela made the most of the hand that she'd been dealt in the most extraordinary election year en route to a 34-point swing when she defeated her very worthy and favored opponent by almost 21 points with more than 60 percent of the vote in OT. Valenzuela will expect to face a tougher test in November with Beth Van Duyne as the GOP nominee who's a former Irving mayor and Trump administration official. While Valenzuela has shown what she can do as an underdog, that could be a tougher sell in a district where Beto O'Rourke lost to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz by less than three points in 2018.
The Best of the Election selections for 2020 Texas primary runoff will be unveiled in separate installments.