You heard it here in Texas Monthly first. Or maybe you got the campaign announcement in your email, which I got at basically the same time as when I saw this. But either way, you’ve now heard it.
For months, Texas Democrats have failed to field a single serious candidate to challenge Governor Greg Abbott’s reelection bid. But today, Beto O’Rourke is announcing in Texas Monthly that he is entering the 2022 gubernatorial race. The former three-term congressman from El Paso who had run losing bids for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz in 2018 and for president in 2020, is not expected to face any serious challengers for his party’s nomination. He will seek to become the first Democrat to win statewide office in Texas since 1994, ending the longest statewide losing streak in America for either party.
It will be an uphill battle. Abbott, who has raised more money than any governor in U.S. history, had $55 million in his campaign treasury as of July 15, the last time he reported the size of his war chest. While polling has found that Abbott is not as popular as he once was, O’Rourke’s numbers are worse. A University of Texas poll conducted in October found 43 percent of Texans approved of the job Abbott is doing and 48 percent disapproved, but only 35 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of O’Rourke against 50 percent who had an unfavorable view.
Running for senate three years ago against a polarizing Cruz, O’Rourke had some success courting moderates: about half a million Texans who voted for Abbott also voted for O’Rourke, and he lost by only 2.6 points. But in 2019, seeking the Democratic nomination for president, the El Pasoan pivoted to appeal to a national base of Democratic primary voters and campaign contributors. He moved left on energy, guns, health care, and immigration, providing the Abbott campaign with an arsenal of provocative quotes it has packed into a preemptive thirty-second digital attack ad, titled “Wrong Way O’Rourke.”
Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to entirely count out O’Rourke, whose 2018 race against Cruz set the high-water mark for a Democratic statewide challenger over the past two decades. Last time he ran statewide, O’Rourke broke U.S. Senate fund-raising records. His campaign refreshed Texas Democrats like nothing else in their long electoral drought, and the turnout he inspired among Democrats and independents helped flip two seats in Congress and a dozen in the state House—though Democrats were unable to add to those gains in 2020.
Also, the past two years haven’t been good ones for Abbott. The state’s pandemic response and the failure of its energy grid in February have brought the governor criticism from both sides. He will face primary challenges from two aggressive candidates to his right: Don Huffines, a former state senator, and Allen West, the former chair of the state GOP.
Should the governor survive those challenges, as expected, the biggest question of his race against O’Rourke will be whether Abbott, in his zeal to keep former president Donald Trump’s endorsement and appease unrelenting criticism from those on the right, cedes some of the center in Texas politics that was once securely his. Over the past year, emboldened by having repelled Democrat advances in 2020, Abbott has proudly signed conservative legislation that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. He signed a law opposed by 55 percent of Texans that allows any resident to carry a handgun without a permit or any instruction, and an abortion bill with an enforcement mechanism, opposed by 57 percent, that allows private citizens to sue anyone they believe helped someone get the procedure.
Texas Monthly spoke with O’Rourke about why he decided to run for governor, why he thinks the race is winnable, and whether he regrets his presidential bid.
Read on for the interview, which is solid. I find it interesting that the stories I’ve seen relating to Beto’s now-confirmed candidacy all mention the UT/Trib poll but not the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll. Y’all need better PR people, THPF. Greg Abbott has been expecting Beto to run, and now it’s all out in the open. Whatever people had been saying about the state of the race before this, it’s very different now.
Everyone and their mom has a story and a take about this now, and that’s both good and likely part of the reason why Beto dragged this out the way he did. There are so many factors to consider at the start of this campaign: The national environment, President Biden’s approval numbers, Greg Abbott’s approval numbers, the previous campaigns Beto has run, and on and on. No one thinks he’s anything but an underdog, but no one would count him out. He may or may not have the primary to himself, and it remains to be seen who will be running alongside him for November. I suspect the next news story we’ll get is that he raised a good amount of money on day one. If we get some stories after that about the freeze and the handling of the pandemic and the unconstitutional vigilante anti-abortion law and so on, that will be even better. I’ve been ready for this stage of the campaign for a long time now. I’m ready for it to move forward from here. The Chron and the Trib and pretty much everyone else has more.