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Look out for LVdP

Do not underestimate her.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the lavish Belo Mansion, tucked in the heart of this city’s downtown, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is locked in a back-and-forth with small-business owners from the region.

Van de Putte, the San Antonio Democrat running for lieutenant governor, is courting support — and cash — from the mix of lawyers, restaurateurs, real estate investors and nonprofit managers in the room.

And she brings a clear message: Erase any notion that her campaign exists solely to lend a Hispanic face on the Democratic ticket for Sen. Wendy Davis, the gubernatorial nominee, to court Latino voters. Van de Putte is in it to win it.

“I’ve never been good at being a martyr. I wish I was that noble, but I’m way too competitive,” she said. “I know I can do this.”

Donation envelopes, marked with ranges from $50 to $5,000, are laid at one end of a conference table where the small group is huddled.

“But I need your help.”

Currently trekking through the state on a giant campaign bus, Van de Putte is by all accounts the underdog in the race for the state’s No.2 office, likely to be outgunned and outspent by an entrenched Republican machine.

Yet political analysts think the San Antonio pharmacist, mother of six — and grandmother of six more — could be the strongest candidate on the Democratic ticket.

“Her prospects for victory are very unlikely,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “But they are probably the best odds of any Democrat this cycle.”

[…]

For Van de Putte to be competitive in the race, she’s also going to have to raise big bucks. Jones, the political scientist from Rice, estimates she’ll need in the range of $15 million to compete against Patrick or Dewhurst.

“Republicans just start off with a built in advantage when it comes to fundraising,” he said.

On the tour, Van de Putte has been hitting the fundraising circuit hard. On occasion, she puts in several hours of “call time” with potential donors from the back the campaign bus.

Private fundraisers were scheduled throughout the trip. And the donation envelopes are present at most of the stumps.

I had the opportunity, along with several of my blogging colleagues, to meet briefly with Sen. Van de Putte while she was in Houston on Saturday. The thing about Sen. Van de Putte is that she’s as personable as anyone you’re likely to meet. She’s funny, she’s direct, she’s very comfortable in her own skin. As Molly Ivins would have put it, she’s got a ton of Elvis in her. That’s an asset we’ve not had in abundance on the Democratic side of the statewide ballot in recent cycles, and it’s no small thing.

To know Sen. Van de Putte is to like her, but the challenge is ensuring enough people know her. As she was uncontested in her primary, the last finance report she filed was in January, so we don’t know how her campaign is doing on the fundraising front. I don’t know how much she really needs to raise, but it is in the millions. I get the impression she’s doing well on that front, but we won’t know for sure until July. By the same token, we keep hearing bits and pieces about support for her from Republicans that are not happy with the prospect of Dan Patrick as Lite Gov. I try to keep stuff like that in perspective because I really want it to be true. My hope is that we’ll hear more of this, and have more names attached to the stories, after Patrick (presumably) wins his runoff in May. It would be nice to see some of those same names show up in her finance report, and of course there’s the matter of groups like the Texas Farm Bureau putting their money where their mouths are. Sen. Van de Putte won’t have any trouble firing up Democrats for November. Stuff like this will let us know if it’s contagious outside of the base. Juanita and Stace have more.

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