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The Texas Governor’s Race: What You Need to Know

The Texas gubernatorial general election is set for November of 2022, with the primary elections being held in March 2022. Texas does not have gubernatorial term limits, and current governor Greg Abbott is seeking a third term. With an endorsement list that includes political juggernauts like former president Donald Trump and senator Ted Cruz, along with incumbency advantage, Abbott is seen as the favorite in both the Republic primary and the general election. A poll conducted by YouGov and the University of Houston during the middle of January 2022 had Abbott winning the primary by a margin of more than 45 points. The most recent poll conducted by University of Texas at Tyler has Abbott similarly leading the rest of the candidates by more than fifty points. 

On the Democratic side, Beto O’Rourke is the clear favorite, leading by more than fifty points in significant polls. O’Rourke is a former Congressman, representing the sixteenth district in South Texas for three terms between 2012 and 2018, when he gave up his seat to run for the Senate. Described in 2018 as a longshot candidate running against well-financed incumbent Ted Cruz, O’Rourke was defeated 50.9% to 48.3%. Despite his loss, the thin margin was significant in that it represented a payoff in Democrats’ efforts to shift the state’s politics left through turning out historically underrepresented groups. Just three days after that election, Senator John Cornyn summed this up, saying “Texas is no longer, I believe, a reliably red state.” With a high national profile following his Senate run, O’Rourke ran an unsuccessful campaign for president in 2020. 

The closest challenger to Abbott on the Republic side is former Congressman and chairman of the state’s Republican party Allen West. West has particularly strong support among primary voters that voted for Trump, which is unsurprising given that he has run to the right of Abbott and campaigned on Abbott being too liberal. And West has been gaining momentum closer to the primary election, with a poll conducted by Paradigm Partners even having him slightly ahead of Abbott in a primary. 

With West gaining prominence, and other challengers like Rick Lynn Perry, Don Huffines, and Chad Prather having notable support, it is possible Abbot will not reach the fifty percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff election. In the case of that happening, it would be the first time Abbott has to face a contested race throughout his political career. Adding to this the fact that Abbott has most of his strength among less engaged voters (those that do not follow politics too closely), his path towards the general election is not certain. 

A number of polls have been conducted regarding the likely general election between O’Rourke and Abbott. These are two figures that have statewide prominence, significant experience on the campaign trail, and high fundraising numbers. Generally the most simple indicator of a candidate’s odds, recent campaign finance disclosures reveal the fundraising strengths of both candidates: O’Rourke announced $7.2 million in the first 46 days of his campaign, and Abbott $18.9 million over the past half a year along with about $55 million saved at the end of June 2021. 

Though Abbott has a sizable lead, it is important to note O’Rourke has only started fundraising since November 2021 (when he announced his intent to run), while Abbott has planned and fundraised for his reelection since early 2021. Abbott will also likely have to spend more on a challenging primary (and possible runoff) than O’Rourke would, considering O’Rourke has no significant primary challenger. . 

During O’Rourke’s Senate run against Ted Cruz in 2018, he raised more than $80 million despite being inhibited by federal campaign contribution caps. Texas does not have such regulation, so it will be interesting to see if he can ramp up fundraising numbers in the months leading up to the general election. Nevertheless, the current advantage of Abbott’s campaign in terms of expendable finances is remarkable. 

Texas is also still classified as a red state, with Republican majorities in the State House and Senate, a wholly conservative Texas Supreme Court, and two Republican Senators in the US Congress giving Republicans control of every statewide position. Despite recent broad trends towards a purple Texas, therefore, Abbott is up a sizable average +9.2 in recent polling against O’Rourke.

Both candidates are targeting South Texas, the area where the GOP has been gaining ground since 2020 and where O’Rourke underperformed in in 2018. In these areas, both campaigns are taking predictably opposite stances on a very prominent issue for the state: the border. While O’Rourke has argued that communities do not want walls and militarization of the border, Abbott has overseen the creation of Texas’ border wall and the deployment of thousands of National Guard to the border.

Across the state, some other issues of importance include abortion and guns. Abbott has championed restrictive abortion laws and O’Rourke has campaigned on reversing such. As governor, Abbott firmly ensconced the broad gun issue to a right wing position, including supporting laws that allow handguns to be carried without permission. During a 2020 presidential debate, O’Rourke stated “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” in response to a question regarding gun regulation. O’Rourke has also pounced on the power grid failure that left millions in the state without power to cite the ineffectiveness of Abbott’s governance. 

More than pure ideology, Texas being consistently red is a result of design due to certain structures in the state that give the GOP an institutional advantage. Republicans in Texas have worked hard to raise obstacles to voting by preventing people from registering online, enacting stringent voter identification laws, and gerrymandering the state.  All of these voter suppression tactics disproportionately affect people of color. According to a report by Northern Illinois University, Texas has the most restricted voting processes in the country. 

While Abbott is the current favorite in a general election, the margin is close enough to where an effective campaign that reaches out to disenfranchised voters can turn the tide for the Democrat. The result of this race will reveal a lot in terms of the direction that Texas is moving ideologically, and how these two frontrunners run their campaigns to attempt to mobilize their respective target voters is interesting to see. As midterms traditionally go well for the party without the presidency, and with president Biden’s approval rate at just 40 percent, the race will also disclose generally how voters feel about the current state of politics. 

Featured Image Source: The Houston Chronicle

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