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First on CNN: Texas lieutenant governor candidate gets national nod

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leticia Van de Putte is a Democrat running for lieutenant governor in Texas
  • She gets a nod from Democracy for America, which has has 38,000 members in Texas
  • Former DNC chairman Howard Dean heads the group
  • "This year we have the best opportunity in a generation to turn Texas blue," Dean says

Washington (CNN) -- Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat running for the second-highest office in Texas, received an endorsement Wednesday that gives her campaign needed exposure and fund-raising opportunities.

Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and his organization, Democracy for America, endorsed Van de Putte for lieutenant governor of Texas in an e-mail to the group's 1 million members, including more than 38,000 in Texas.

"This year we have the best opportunity in a generation to turn Texas blue," Dean said, referring to Van de Putte and Wendy Davis, the Texas gubernatorial candidate and liberal star. "In Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, we have the right team to seize that opportunity and defeat the extreme right."

The organization endorsed Davis immediately after she announced her candidacy in October. But the group waited six months before giving Van de Putte the nod. The organization wanted to ensure that Van de Putte's campaign, with its much lower profile, was capable of winning in the reliably red state.

"We decided to back Leticia Van de Putte after running our endorsement process and seeing ... how excited our members in Texas are about a Davis-Van de Putte one-two punch and watching her put together the kind of grassroots campaign that we're confident can win in the Lone Star State," Neil Sroka with Democracy for America wrote in an e-mail.

Van de Putte welcomed the endorsement, thanking Democracy for America for its "grass-roots support."

Democrats are cautiously optimistic about their chances in Texas this year, noting that they have two top-notch candidates who could pull off an upset. While Davis has excited progressives around the country with her 13-hour filibuster last June over abortion access, Van de Putte has her own lengthy legislative record, and Democrats insist she, as a Latino, is the ideal candidate to motivate women and Latinos to vote.

Meet the woman who could turn Texas purple

Persuading Texas Democrats to vote is its own challenge. The Lone Star State, where more than one-third of the population is Hispanic, is plagued with low voter turnout. Nearly two-thirds of eligible Latino voters stayed home in 2012. And the numbers get worse in nonpresidential election years.

Van de Putte's challenger is still undetermined. Current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick are locked in a runoff contest for the Republican nomination. Both candidates are running to the right, making immigration a central component of their campaigns, which Democrats say could also help drive Latinos to the polls.

Van de Putte must raise significant amounts of money to be competitive in the vast, populous state. The latest fund-raising figures available are old -- from January -- but total a mere $290,000.

Democracy For America raised more than $50,000 for Davis in the first 24 hours after its endorsement. That's an extremely high bar to match for a Van de Putte endorsement, but obviously one her campaign hopes is reached.

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