Elections 2022Statewide NewsEndorsements, Fundraising, Polling Split Democratic Land Commissioner Candidates

Between polling, high-profile endorsements, and fundraising, the Democratic primary for Texas land commissioner lacks a clear frontrunner.
February 17, 2022
Frontrunners are usually easy to spot. In the Democratic primary for governor, to name an example, Beto O’Rourke’s war chest, legion of volunteers, and name recognition obviously outshine competitor Joy Diaz. Incumbent Lt. Governor Dan Patrick towers over the Republican competition for the seat he has held since 2014.

However, in the Democratic primary for Texas Land Commissioner, it depends on where you look.

Four candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the race to steward the state’s 13 million acres of public land: conservationist Jay Kleberg of King Ranch royalty, veteran and businessman Michael Lange, counselor Sandragrace Martinez, and attorney and former science teacher Jinny Suh.

With over $427,000 cash on hand, Kleberg has a massive fundraising advantage. The second-place fundraiser in the primary is Suh with just under $12,000.

But while Kleberg has nabbed several major endorsements, including from three of the state’s four biggest newspapers, Democratic politicians and left-leaning groups haven’t seemed to settle on a clear favorite in the race yet.

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Their endorsements are revealing.

Elected state Democrats that have endorsed in this race are generally split between Kleberg and Suh, with more moderate Democrats going for Kleberg and more progressive Democrats backing Suh. Former land commissioner Garry Mauro and state Reps. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Mando Martinez (D-Weslaco), Bobby Guerra (D-Mission), Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), and Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) support Kleberg. Notably, these representatives also all serve Kleberg’s home region of South Texas.

Meanwhile, Suh has the support of Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin), Gene Wu (D-Houston), and Erin Zwiener (D-Kyle), along with a broad array of progressive state and national groups that includes Annie’s List, the American Federation of Teachers, and the AFL-CIO.

Additionally, as recent history demonstrates, elections don’t always come down to money.

Despite having just nine dollars in cash on hand, Sandragrace Martinez enjoys a wide polling lead over the other three candidates in a recent survey conducted throughout late January by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. 18 percent of almost certain primary voters said they would vote for Martinez; Lange took second place with 6 percent. However, 67 percent of primary voters remain undecided.

Though Lange’s fundraising haul isn’t quite as meager as Martinez’s, the $2,500 he’s amassed in cash on hand likely didn’t land him in the penultimate polling spot. He might credit his ground game for that. Lange has been diligently hustling from Galveston to Austin to El Paso, speaking at club meetings.

Polled opinions change over time, and polls themselves vary in reliability. Kleberg has certainly established a strong position, and his fundraising haul will take him far.

But compared to the Democratic primaries for governor or comptroller, to name some examples, the Democratic primary for the only open statewide seat in Texas seems to be one of the likeliest races to go to an underdog.

The candidates did not respond to requests for comment.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.