Abbott vs. O’Rourke: Expect bitter rhetoric and fierce campaigning from gubernatorial candidates
Although Republican incumbent Governor Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke faced several opponents in their respective party’s primaries, both ran their campaigns with a focus on the November general election. O’Rourke hammered Abbott on the power grid outage during last year’s winter storm, while Abbott nominated O’Rourke as an open borders candidate in line with President Biden, whose approval rating is well less than 50%.
As for November, experts also say Governor Greg Abbott’s embrace of far-right issues — including his border enforcement initiatives and the recent directive that the state investigate families who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children – is likely to continue.
“He did very well with this approach,” said Rebecca Deen, associate professor of political science and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington, in an interview with The Texas Newsroom. “You saw as soon as it was clear he was going to have challengers to his right, that he did everything he needed to do.”
The strategy helped Abbott fend off what were seen as his biggest Republican primary challengers in former state senator Don Huffines, a Dallas-area Republican and Allen West, the former chairman of the Texas Republican Party and a Florida congressman for one term.
Deen said the success means there is no reason for him to court a more moderate electorate.
“He embraced former President Trump with the effort to get his followers to support him. He talked about the border and illegal immigration and immigration in general quite often. It’s a good tactic to beat the Democrats and especially to beat Mr. O’Rourke,” Deen said.
Abbott showed no sign Tuesday of backtracking on the policies he championed in the primary, telling a crowd in Corpus Christi that O’Rourke wanted to confiscate guns, damage the oil and gas industry and defund the police.
“Texans face a very deep question this election, are we taking a left turn that leads to more government and less freedom?” said Abbott. “A path that would destroy jobs, open our borders and endanger our communities. Or are we staying the course towards greater guaranteed freedom, more jobs and safer communities? »
Jim Henson, a professor in the University of Texas Department of Government who directs the Texas Politics Project, also told The Texas Newsroom that he doesn’t anticipate Abbott changing his message to sound more sympathetic to moderate voters.
“People have been saying for months that if they’ve gone this far to the right, doesn’t that mean they’re going to get screwed in the general election?” he said. “And I don’t see that. I don’t think there’s anything in our polls to show that. There is nothing in what we know of Texas politics to show that.
Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke will likely continue to campaign as a unifying voice in a divided state, while not shy of taking his own jabs at Abbott.
“We need a change in Texas,” O’Rourke said, speaking to reporters Tuesday. “We cannot have a state where we are pitted against each other, where we are as divided as we have ever been, where we have a governor, whose administration must have been defined by corruption, incompetence and cruelty against every day El Pasoans,” he said.
O’Rourke came to national attention four years ago while campaigning for the United States Senate, when he lost a close race to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But he enters the general election contest this year after an early exit from the 2020 U.S. presidential race. O’Rourke campaigned in 2018 as a candidate who wanted to cross the aisle to benefit Texans and stand traveled to all 254 counties in the state to show he was not snubbing traditionally Republican strongholds.
While he embraced that same message, Deen thinks it might be a tougher sell in this campaign.
“The Beto O’Rourke who challenged Senator Cruz is very different from the Beto O’Rourke of today, largely because of his run for president,” she said.
Much of this has to do with guns. It was during a 2019 debate for the Democratic Party nomination that O’Rourke, when asked about his goal of demanding mandatory buyouts of AR-15s and AK-47s — which are legal to own in Texas without a license – which O’Rourke said “Damn, yeah, we’ll take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
Abbott seized on it and said he would protect the Constitution from people who confiscate guns.
“Notice me, freedom itself is on the ballot.” Abbott told supporters on Tuesday.
O’Rourke’s comments in 2019 came less than two months after a gunman killed 23 people in El Paso in what authorities described as a racially motivated shooting. The accused gunman released a manifesto saying he wanted to stop an “invasion” of Texas by immigrants. It was revealed days later that Abbott had sent out a border security campaign letter dated the day before the shooting in which he told his supporters to “DEFEND” Texas’ borders.
Asked about his current stance on guns, O’Rourke said his message hasn’t changed.
“Like almost every El Pasoan, I understand the profound damage that AK-47s and AR-15s and other weapons designed for use on the battlefield to kill people can cause in civilian life. We’ve seen that. at Walmart on August 3, 2019. And my position remains the same,” he said. “No one but a soldier on a battlefield should have one of these weapons. As Governor, I will make sure we both protect the Second Amendment and do a better job of protecting the lives of members of our communities. And I know Republicans and Democrats understand that we can do better and we want to do better.
Henson said the gun issue won’t sway many voters because they’ve already made up their minds about where they stand. But he thinks linking O’Rourke to Biden and the National Democrats will be a recurring theme in Abbott’s campaign.
“Despite his best intentions, Biden has failed to undo the deep partisanship in attitudes toward political figures,” he said. “There’s evidence he hasn’t supported that nationally, but he certainly hasn’t been successful at that in Texas.”
Henson added that O’Rourke has been consistent in trying to campaign on Texas, not Biden.
“He was demonstrating his independence from Biden within a week of his campaign announcement,” Henson said.
Asked if he would welcome an endorsement from Biden, O’Rourke said his focus is on Texas voters who are the ones who will decide the race.
“We are happy to have help from wherever it comes, but my focus is on the people of Texas. Only those in this state can vote and decide the outcome of this election,” he said. said, “So it’s the approval of the Texas voter that I want above all else.
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Do you have any advice? Email Julián Aguilar at [email protected].You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.