Candace Valenzuela wins Texas runoff, stands to be first Afro-Latina in Congress

If she wins in November, Valenzuela would be the first Afro-Latina and the third Latina from Texas.
Candace Valenzuela.
Candace Valenzuela in a campaign photo.Candace Valenzuela's campaign

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Candace Valenzuela stands to become the first Black Latina elected to Congress and just the third Latina elected from Texas.

Valenzuela won a Democratic primary runoff Tuesday in the state's 24th Congressional District against retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson and will face Republican Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving, in the general election.

Democrats consider the seat to be one of their best pickup opportunities in November.

Valenzuela's mother is Mexican American, and her father is Black. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, and she became an educator, working as a special needs teacher. Like many other Latinos, she started her political career on the school board, in Farmers Branch.

Valenzuela's mother, a daughter of Army veterans, fled domestic violence when she was young and lived in a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The opportunity to run for Congress opened up when the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth district's Republican incumbent, Kenny Marchant, announced his retirement, part of an exodus of several Texas Republican House members as the state's demographics shift in Democrats' favor.

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Valenzuela got backing early from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' BOLD PAC, which decided this year to be bullish in supporting Democrats of all backgrounds in primaries. She also picked up support from the Latino Victory Fund and EMILY's List.

Her campaign got a boost last summer when a video telling some of her life story went viral. She talks of her family's losing its home after her mother couldn't pay the bills after her Army service. A kiddie pool served as a place to sleep when her mother fled domestic violence, she says in the video.

In a video tweet she posted after her victory, Valenzuela said: “I’m no longer that toddler that slept with her infant brother in a kiddie pool outside of a gas station but that little girl is always with me, just as I carry around the thought of the children that were at Tornillo that were in the cages, just as I carry around Tamir Rice, just as I carry around every family that is hungry in this pandemic or literally dying of preventable diseases in the most prosperous country on earth.”

During the campaign, her opponent, Olson, had to overcome an Iraq contracting controversy that forced her retirement while she served in President George W. Bush's administration.

Olson was the top vote-getter in the primary, winning 40.9 percent of the vote to Valenzuela's 30.4 percent on March 3.

If Valenzuela wins in November, she would join Reps. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia García, who broke the barrier for Latinas from Texas with their congressional elections in 2018.

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