Candace Valenzuela, an educator, lost a close race to flip an open Texas congressional seat in a district that has been represented by a Republican since 2005 and has been steadily diversifying over the last couple decades.
Valenzuela ran against Beth Van Duyne, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump and ran an “anti-Sharia” campaign during her time as mayor of Irving, Texas. They competed in Texas’s 24th Congressional District, which covers the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth and was opened up when 15-year Rep. Kenny Marchant retired last August — one of seven Republican members of Texas’s congressional delegation to vacate their seats. For days, the race was too close to call, with Van Duyne at 48.8 percent of the vote to Valenzuela’s 47.5. Valenzuela conceded the race in a statement Tuesday morning.
“The first time I stepped up to run for office, others told me that I couldn’t do it because I lacked gravitas and, as a mother and woman of color, I didn’t fit the image of an elected official,” she wrote. “Even though we didn’t win this race, we’ve forced the gatekeepers of the political process to reimagine who belongs at the table.”
Prior to running for Congress, Valenzuela, who was formerly homeless, became the first Black woman to serve on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board, north of Dallas, unseating an 18-year incumbent in 2017. Like many insurgent candidates in recent years, she became involved in organizing following Trump’s election in 2016, she told The Intercept’s Deconstructed last week. Valenzuela advanced from the July primary runoff by 20 percentage points with 19,950 votes, after coming in second in the March primary to retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson, with 30 percent of the vote.
Her platform included expanding the Affordable Care Act and offering a public option, supporting the 2020 Justice in Policing Act introduced in June by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, which would ban chokeholds, end the use of no-knock warrants, and establish a national database to track police misconduct and use of force, and working to pass Democrats’ massive campaign finance reform bill, H.R. 1.
Van Duyne was a regional administrator for Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2019. The president endorsed her in February and tweeted, “She is a Strong Conservative who supports Border Security, Loves our Military, Vets, and supports your #2A.” She ran on prosecuting violent crime, restricting asylum, and getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. Van Duyne has faced accusations of bigotry, and was honored by two anti-Muslim hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported, for her public attacks on an Islamic tribunal in Texas in 2015. In September, she posted a meme to Twitter picturing a black woman with bruises on her face with the words: “decades of woman beating, rapes, illegal drug use, gambling, dog fighting and all of a sudden the NFL cares about social justice.”
The district, which was created after the 1970 census, leans Republican but has changed drastically over Marchant’s 15 years in Congress. He won reelection last cycle by just 3 percentage points, narrowly avoiding an upset from Democrat Jan McDowell, who ran against him for the first time in 2016 and lost by 17 points.
John McCain won the district by 17 points in 2008, Mitt Romney won it by 22 points in 2012, and Trump won it by just 6 points in 2016. The Dallas-Fort Worth region added 1.2 million people between 2000 and 2010, a 23 percent increase. The majority-minority district currently has 832,000 people: 45 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian, and 13 percent Black.
Democrats picked up two seats in Texas in the 2018 midterms, with Democrats Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred ousting powerful Republican incumbents in Dallas and Houston.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made the 24th District one of eight targets this cycle, along with districts in Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston, and Plano. DCCC spent $3.3 million in support of Valenzuela, whose campaign raised $4 million. Valenzuela was also backed by former President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Rising Empowering PAC, EMILY’s List, the AFL-CIO, End Citizens United, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Correction: Nov. 10, 2020
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Valenzuela as an army veteran. The article has also been updated with the results of the election.