For Houston businessman Andrew White, his Democratic primary campaign for governor boils down to one word: queso.
Stuck in second gear as a bland unknown going up against four-term Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez in a May 22 runoff, White tried to pick up points with a provocative foodie comment in The Dallas Morning News.
Saying he's lived in Texas “39 of my 45 years,” White wrote, “here's my guide to the best chili con queso.”
Of all the great queso across the Lone Star State, his favorites are predictable: Matt's El Rancho in Austin, home of guacamole-beef “Bob Armstrong” queso (named for a former state official); the orignal Ninfa's on Navigation in Houston; and the mass-market Mi Cocina chain in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Definitely nothing as wild as Velvet Taco.
If there is an explanation for a past governor's son trailing Valdez by a stinging 16 points in the March 6 primary, it's his adherence to the old and well-worn in a year when many Democrats want something different and new.
Schools? He'd add gambling casinos at horse racing tracks like the one in Grand Prairie to raise another $3 billion. (But the Texas Lottery hasn't helped schools as much as projected, and there's no guarantee casinos would.)
Marijuana? He told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board Tuesday he wants to decriminalize pot and clear Texans' criminal records, yet not legalize commercial sales.
Taxes? He says — hey, all those casinos would help bring school property taxes down, right? (He also correctly said it's disingenuous for the Texas Legislature to hammer local governments about the tax rate while counting on a 14 percent school tax revenue increase to balance the budget.)
Abortion and Planned Parenthood? He and his wife, Stacey, are “personally pro-life” and want their children to get a Christian education in private schools, but he would veto further restrictions on Texas abortion clinics.
In a year when young progressives and Latino voters are driving newfound party energy, it's almost as if he's the middle-of-the-road 70-year-old and Valdez is 45.
He's the kind of moderate candidate who might push Gov. Greg Abbott. That is, if he could win the nomination.
He made his sharpest points about Austin and Abbott, who is already campaigning as if Valdez will be the Democratic nominee.
“We're going to bring sanity and reason back to state government,” White said, referring to the “foolishness” of anti-LGBT bathroom bills, a border wall or the new law against so-called sanctuary cities.
“We are focused in Austin on all the wrong things,” he said.
The Austin audience will get to judge that in person Friday, when he and Valdez meet in an East Austin church for their only debate. It will be shown on the KXAN.com website.
A University of Houston political science professor said White's problem is that he's trying to pull Democrats back to the middle.
“The [Beto] O’Rourke campaign awakened many progressives across the state and those voters are looking for more liberal answers,” professor Brandon Rottinghaus wrote by email.
“These voters have seen the influence they have and they’re likely to turn out … White will claim he’s the most electable in November, and he might be correct, but the Democratic runoff voters aren’t looking past May.”
White's going to have to show more spice.