AUSTIN – After a summer of uncertainty, Democrats are feeling better about former US Representative Beto O’Rourke challenging incumbent Republican Greg Abbott for governor.
The expectation for O’Rourke to come forward against Abbott is a turnaround from earlier this year, when the El Paso Democrat seemed unlikely to embark on a third major campaign in four years. O’Rourke has sought the advice of Democrats and others to challenge Abbott, said David Wysong, an adviser to the former congressman.
Recent polls show Abbott has new vulnerabilities. The governor has been criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, blamed in part for the February winter storm that crippled Texas with power outages and attacked by Democrats and some independents for promoting a controversial election bill and a law that virtually bans abortions in Texas. However, Red Texas Republican voters reliably support Abbott’s policies.
A new poll from The morning news from Dallas and the University of Texas at Tyler reveals that 54% of voters in Texas think the state is headed in the wrong direction, including 64% of those who identify as independent. Abbott’s approval rating, which before this year was always in sterling, has fallen to 45%.
O’Rourke’s numbers are nothing to brag about either. His approval rating is 42%. Polls show he is following Abbott in a hypothetical clash for governor by a 42% to 37% margin.
But Abbott’s five-point lead over O’Rourke is the closest to a Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Ann Richards won in 1990. And the governor’s re-election campaign is brewing as if O ‘ Rourke was ready to scold.
“With Beto O’Rourke preparing for his gubernatorial candidacy, ALL EYES will be on Texas,” Abbott’s campaign team wrote in a fundraising email that warned GOP donors that O’Rourke is a fundraising juggernaut.
But O’Rourke is moved by more than just the poll numbers.
During his unsuccessful but close run in 2018 against incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, as well as his brief candidacy for the 2020 presidency, O’Rourke told crowds that it was essential to do everything possible to resist the policy of then President Donald Trump.
He said Texans had the chance to lead the nation by developing sensible immigration and economic policies. He spoke of Democrats and Republicans coming together for the good of Texas and the nation, which would require putting aside petty politics and getting everyone into our democracy.
More poignantly, O’Rourke wondered aloud what he would say to his children and grandchildren, when asked what he had done to help heal the nation during Trump’s time. ?
These speeches are relevant today because O’Rourke and others believe Texas is at a crossroads.
Perhaps more than being a senator, or even president, the governorship offers more opportunities to impact the lives of Texans and shape the way the state is viewed.
If O’Rourke truly believes Abbott is leading the state into a ditch, he must challenge Abbott, win or lose.
This is good news for his fans as O’Rourke is the only known Texas Democrat who can raise money, craft the message, and use the organization and oratory skills to threaten Abbott.
O’Rourke will have to come up with a statewide second act if he runs for governor. Challenging Abbott is far different from his battle with Cruz, the race that made him a household name in Texas.
But his fundraising ability alone makes him a threat and will take the Democrats off ballots.
It’s Beto or bust for Texas Democrats.
Right now, O’Rourke’s haters have emailed or tweeted me that the former congressman doesn’t stand a chance and the media is preparing to spotlight him.
It is true that O’Rourke has an uphill battle and will likely lose a statewide clash against Abbott, or someone like Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, who has not ruled out being run for governor. The actor could present himself as a Republican.
Texas is a red state.
After the 2020 election, Republicans maintained firm control over the state by holding their majority in the Texas House and Senate, as well as the Lone Star delegation to Congress. It happened after proclamations, including in this column, that Texas is a battleground state.
Moreover, O’Rourke does not have the same attraction for many residents that he had in his race against Cruz.
His cross appeal and his $ 80 million campaign fund propelled him 2.6 percentage points from beating Cruz. In the process, he pushed Democrats to win numerous races in the district. They won 12 seats at Texas House, mostly in North Texas. And Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston won congressional races that helped Democrats recapture the United States House and reinstall Nancy Pelosi as president.
But O’Rourke’s rising stardom peaked after his battle with Cruz. In 2020, he ran for president, but had to put his campaign on hold long before the Iowa caucuses. His presidential candidacy has exposed progressive positions that could hurt him with some voters in Texas, including his promise to confiscate assault-type weapons like the AR-15 rifle, should the opportunity arise.
Most Republicans, and probably some independents, might find his immigration proposals and positions on social issues too liberal for Texas.
Then there is President Joe Biden. The news’ A poll shows his approval rating in Texas is mired at 40% and only 29% approve of his handling of the southern border with Mexico.
Running against Abbott also creates personal political risk for O’Rourke. If he calls Abbott and loses, it would be three high-profile losses in four years. Such a record could impact his ability to run for statewide positions in the years to come, including in 2024 when Cruz is re-elected. Cruz could run for president in 2024, leaving the Senate seat open.
If O’Rourke has any thoughts about defeat, he should put them aside.
The moment demands that he enter the political arena as a candidate for governor.
What happens after that depends on the voters in Texas.