At 70, a retired U.S. Army captain and federal-agent-turned-Texas-sheriff might not seem like the candidate to turn the Texas Governor's Mansion blue.
“But I have the energy of a 2-year-old!” Dallas Democrat Lupe Valdez shouted Saturday, pinballing around the pulpit in a Fort Worth church barely 12 hours after she skated safely through an Austin debate against Houston investor Andrew White.
In her first morning as the unquestioned frontrunner in the May 22 party runoff for the right to face Gov. Greg Abbott, Valdez showed a local Democratic women's club the fervor that delivered her to four tough election victories as Dallas County sheriff.
“Her energy is very impressive,” said Berry Bock, a retired psychotherapist in the crowd of about 200 at a southwest Fort Worth church.
“I'd never heard her before. She's so excited.”
But first in a Star-Telegram online visit, then in the Friday debate and her Saturday visit, she started off folksy and then finished with a rush, pumping a fist and shouting about “fighting for the working Texans!” — “the ordinary people, not the big-money people.”
For every hole in Valdez's featherlight leadership record or knowledge of state issues, she has filled it with passion, charm and self-deprecating humor.
“They used to call me a 'female Hispanic lesbian Democrat,' ” she told the club, delivering an eye-roll grin as she repeated one of her regular lines: “Could somebody hate me more?”
When she first ran for sheriff, she said, even a Latino police group's executive told her in obscene terms his group would not endorse a lesbian.
She is not a choose-a-label candidate, she said: “I am the candidate of the everyday Texan, and I am proudly the candidate of the tolerant and diverse Texan.”
Already, her outspoken support for LGBT equality and abortion rights are prime targets for Abbott's campaign.
Abbott's campaign was just warming up last week when it circulated a new ad calling Valdez “too liberal for Texas … the most pro-life state in the nation.” (The ad also subtly quotes Valdez talking about her partner.)
Valdez isn't as well-known on abortion rights as Wendy Davis, the 2014 Democratic nominee and a 20-point loser to Abbott.
But Valdez has Planned Parenthood's endorsement. She challenged White directly Friday on the issue, telling him, “You owe an apology” for White saying he and his wife personally oppose abortion and “respect life.”
(White replied, "My personal opinions are my personal opinions, and as governor, I would trust women to make their own health care decisions.")
In her Saturday speech, Valdez did not mention abortion rights or Planned Parenthood, but drew a rousing cheer when they came up as a question.
Cindy B. James of Fort Worth is the state president of Texas Democratic Women.
“I think both candidates are going to have to toughen up,” she said. “I'm disappointed in a couple of things about both of them.”
Valdez hasn't seemed to know enough about schools or school finance, James said. White, on the other hand, has said his children are in private school because he wants them to have a “Christian education.”
“For gosh sakes, you can raise your children as Christians and still have them in public school,” she said.
“Our candidates will have to do better.”
Too late. These will have to do.