Houston investor Andrew White declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor Thursday. The son of the late Gov. Mark White made the announcement a day after former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced her candidacy.
White is approaching the contest in a manner more familiar to Republicans running at the federal level: as an outsider running against a career politician.
“He’s self-financed, which I think helps a lot in this case,” says Jon Taylor, chair of the political science department at the University of Saint Thomas. “While he hasn’t run for public office before, he is kind of playing that middle field to try to attract moderate voters in the Democratic Party but more so moderate voters on the Republican side, as well as independent voters.”
White's policy positions include overhauling K-12 public education, and accepting Medicaid expansion funds from the federal government. On social issues, he's trying to steer a more moderate course.
Southern Methodist University Political Scientist Cal Jillson says that might help in the general election, but White must first defeat Valdez and several other candidates in the Democratic primary.
"He's already come under attack form Wendy Davis, who was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2014," Jillson says. "for being too moderate on abortion."
White must also beat back criticism that he represents the party's past, not only because his father was governor, but because he is an Anglo, running against a Latina.
"The data on this is actually pretty clear," says Jay Aiyer, a professor at Texas Southern University. "Spanish surnamed Hispanic candidates do very well in Democratic primary contests."
Valdez already has the support of much of the state Democratic establishment behind her. But Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute says White does have a path to the nomination.
If White is the nominee, he’ll face an uphill fight against incumbent Greg Abbott.
Jillson says getting his message out will be a challenge for White, or any Democratic nominee.
"Almost no matter what Andrew White or Lupe Valdez say they stand for, the the Republican attack will be that they are liberal, spend-thrift Democrats and the electorate has rejected them for the past 20 years."
White's ability to self-finance his campaign may encourage other Democrats to open their wallets, which would be essential if the party's candidate is to compete with Abbott. The governor is sitting on a campaign war chest of more than $40 million, and no Democrat has won statewide office in Texas in more than 20 years.