- Chasing a blue success in America’s largest red state, Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas.
- O’Rourke’s announcement marked the beginning of the third run for office in as many election cycles.
- The 2020 Democratic presidential primary exploded as a Democrat party event, but dried up with money and fanfare just eight months later.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas, after his star-making US Senate campaign in 2018 followed a blue success in America’s biggest red state that put him closer than anyone in decades.
O’Rourke’s announcement on Monday marks the start of the third run for office in as many election cycles. He exploded as a party event in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but ran out of money and fanfare just eight months later.
“It’s not going to be easy. But it is possible,” O’Rourke said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his announcement. “I believe, very strongly, from hearing people in this state that they are very unhappy with the direction that (Government) Greg Abbott has taken Texas.”
O’Rourke’s return sets up one of 2022’s highest-profile — and potentially most expensive — races for governor. Abbott, a Republican, is seeking a third term and has put Texas at the fore of hard-right policymaking in state capitals and has emerged as a national figure. A challenge from O’Rourke, a media-savvy former Congressman with a record of generating attention and cash, could tempt Democrats to pour millions of dollars into trying — again — to overturn Texas.
Still, O’Rourke is coming back as an underdog. While the state’s growing population of Latino, youth and college-educated voters bodes well for Democrats, the party’s spending in the 2020 presidential election left them next to nothing.
The outlook for Democrats across the country is even worse in next year’s midterm elections. Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since Ann Richards in 1990. And signed into law by Abbott in October, the renewed apolitical maps stand sharply growing in suburban districts moving away from the Republican Party. This could mean fewer competitive races and lower turnout.
O’Rourke, 49, will have to win over not only hundreds of thousands of new voters but some of his old voters as well. When O’Rourke lost to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by only 2.5 percentage points, Abbott won re-election the same year by double digits, reflecting a significant number of Texans who voted for O’Rourke and GOP governor. .
That crossover appeal was a hallmark of a Senate campaign driven by energetic rallies, ideological blurriness and unpublished livestreams on social media. But as a presidential candidate, O’Rourke casts himself as a liberal champion who called for immigration enforcement and reduced mandatory gun buybacks.
In an announcement heard far and wide in firearm-friendly Texas, O’Rourke declared: “Hell, yeah, we’re gonna take your AR-15.”
“I don’t think it’s going to sell really well,” Abbott said in January.
In interviews, O’Rourke indicated that he would try to reclaim the middle in his bid for governor. He rebuked Abbott for a “very extremist, divisive” agenda that caters to the hard right.
Asked about gun control, he said he doesn’t believe Texans want to see their families “shot with weapons designed for war.” But he quickly shut down Abbott for eliminating background checks and concealed handgun permits, training for gun rules that were once bipartisan support.
O’Rourke argued that the broad coalition of voters that nearly troubled him in 2018, including Republican moderates, could be formed again.
“What I’m going to focus on is listening and bringing people together to do the big thing before us,” he said. “And obviously the first big thing is to win this election. But there are voters and votes.”
O’Rourke is not alone in the race to find a foothold in Texas.
For most of his six years in office, Abbott has had an aura of political invincibility. But their job acceptance ratings have slipped during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 70,000 Texans, as well as a deadly winter blackout that has blackened the nation’s energy capital and a legislative session that has created new barriers to voting. and effectively banned most abortions. State. Abbott also aggressively slammed the Biden administration’s pandemic policies, angering some of Texas’ biggest schools and employers by banning masks and vaccine mandates.
Despite the Conservative Policy victory, Abbott faces pressure from the right side of his party. Two conservative firebrands, including former Florida Congressman Alan West, have launched primary challenges. Former President Donald Trump has backed Abbott but pressured him to audit the state’s entire 2020 election results on false claims of fraud, even if he won Texas. Abbott has refused.
Still, the governor of Texas enters the race with a $55 million campaign war chest, the largest of any current governor in the country.
Trump had a narrow victory by Texas standards, 5.5 percentage points, closer than his victory in the storied battlefield of Ohio. For deflated Democrats, it was proof that Texas is changing – albeit painfully slowly.
The party struggled for months to identify the challenger to Abbott, resulting in a “beto or bust” plan, reflecting enduring suspicion even in their own ranks. No other Democrats have entered the race or flirted with challenging Abbott.
Actor Matthew McConaughey, who lives in Austin, has teased a run for governor for months, but hasn’t said he’ll make one as a Republican or a Democrat.
Any shot for O’Rourke would require at least a touch of the magic of his Senate run against Cruz, when the lifelong punk rocker from El Paso won over suburban moderates and became the reddest of Texas’ 254 counties. Took a road trip. He said he would again appear in tough spots for Democrats, who have for decades failed to drive rapid growth and demographic change out of the political jungle in Texas.
Supercharged Texas has grown to nearly 30 million people over the past decade and are in five of the nation’s 12 largest cities. Texas’ explosive growth is driven almost entirely by new Latino and black residents, traditionally Democratic voters, and Democrats say those demographic shifts coupled with fatigue over the crisis and the GOP culture wars ousted Abbott from office. can go.
O’Rourke has been ridiculed by Republicans since her exit from the presidential race. One of O’Rourke’s first projects after ending a White House bid — leading a charge to overthrow the Texas House — failed to garner a single additional seat for Democrats.
Still, it triggered a reboot for O’Rourke, who teased his run for president with a cover story in Vanity Fair and soul-searching blog posts, but over the past 18 months as a party worker and organizer. Spent a lot He knocked on doors along the Texas-Mexico border and led a nearly 30-mile (48-kilometer) march to the state capitol to sign up new voters.
He’s also proven he can still tap into a sizable network of donors, who racked up a record $80 million in fundraising during his Senate campaign.