Danny Valdez photo by Theresa Scarbrough/Laredo Morning Times which he might have learned from his father and uncle, each of whom served as Webb County judges. His most recent campaign finance report shows thousands of dollars in payments for contract labor, much of which was paid to people who claim the ability to turn out votes. He doesn’t leave all the work to paid staffers and vote-gatherers, called cafioneros. Benavides has been a tireless campaigner. He says he has taken only one vacation since kicking off his campaign; it was to chase a longtime dream of hunting Marco Polo sheep in the subzero climes of Tajikistan. Danny Valdez says he’s taken one vacation, too, since he began his run for county judgea quick jaunt to Las Vegas. That might not be as impressive as whacking big-horned sheep in central Asia, but it shows a style that might be easier for the average Webb County voter to relate to. Valdez says he will spend up to $160,000 by the end of the runoff, compared with the $700,000 Benavides will go through. Benavides acknowledges the financial advantage but claims he needs to counteract other factors. He says the political machine of Sen. Zaffirini pitched in to help Valdeza charge Valdez denies and the senator says she knew nothing about, but jokingly takes credit for in light of Valdez’s margin of victory on March 7. Having grown up in the barrios of west Laredo, Valdez embraces the image of financial underdog. “I don’t need to match [Benavides], and I don’t need to spend what he’s going to spend:’ Valdez says. A lot of people see Valdez as the hard-working, earnest, everyman candidate. “I think he has a reputation of being decent and honest, and I think a lot of people appreciate that,” said Jerry Thompson, a political science professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. “Plus, [there’s] the fact that a lot of people in the poor neighborhoods know Danny.” As he campaigns in the neighborhoods, Valdez finds plenty of people he knows. During a night of block-walking before the primary, one middle-aged man thanked Valdez for being the justice of the peace at his wedding; an elderly woman thanked him for staying with her the night her husband died; one young woman credited Valdez with helping her raise money for the Miss Texas pageant. \(The woman recalled meeting Miss Corpus Christi, who turned out to be actress Eva Longoria of ABC’s Valdez had some commercials on television, but his campaign appears to take place mostly on foot, as he walks doorto-door throughout Laredo. After working his day job as J.P., Valdez gets into his silver Ford F-150 pickup, goes to his campaign office, and then to the neighborhoods. Sometimes he’s MARCH 24, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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