SMU holds debate for candidates vying for Democratic gubernatorial nomination

Some of the candidates hoping to secure the Democratic nomination in the Texas governor's race squared off at SMU Tuesday night.

Noticeably absent was former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. She could not attend because she's campaigning in South Texas. A new poll indicates her ground game may be working in the Democratic primary.

Six of the nine candidates accepted the invitation for Tuesday’s event, but only four of them were on the stage.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll has former Valdez leading the crowded pack with 43 percent followed by Houston businessman Andrew White with 24 percent.

But poll takers point out that when initially asked about the race, 66 percent of Democrats hadn't thought enough about the race to have an opinion, which says a lot about the lack of name recognition for the entire field.

The debate at SMU was put on by college Democrats. All nine candidates were invited.

Andrew White is a Houston businessman and son of former Texas Governor Mark White. He is the front-runner in money raised, including a personal loan of $1 million.

"I've raised more money than all the candidates put together. And that's important,” White said. “I've got the endorsement from every major newspaper in the state: Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express. That's a powerful statement for my campaign."

"But look at our financial records,” Valdez said. “I have almost twice as many donors as he does. Smaller amounts, and I can't afford to loan myself one million dollars."

Valdez spoke to FOX 4 by phone. She says previous commitments kept her from the Dallas debate. She has spent the last few days campaigning in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.

Valdez believes Texas is no longer the solid red Republican state that previous elections would indicate.

"This is not a red state. This is a non-voting state,” she said “If you look at the population, if you look at those that don't vote, most of those I think would be democrats. And so we have to give them a reason to vote."