Abbott, delivering the keynote speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation, and his GOP challengers, addressing grassroots conservative groups in College Station, opined on issues important to their respective campaigns.
For the governor, those top items included the state’s business-friendly climate and economic recovery post-government lockdowns; Texas’ energy industry and opposition to the Green New Deal; bail reform; and the myriad of issues at the southern border for which he blamed the federal government.
Meanwhile, his challengers — former Texas GOP chair Allen West, former state Sen. Don Huffines, and BlazeTV host Chad Prather — railed against Abbott and focused heavily on “red meat” GOP issues during a Brazos County GOP forum which the governor did not attend.
The state’s essential-versus-nonessential business designations, a legislative ban on vaccine mandates, the subsidization of renewable energy, reform of the governor’s emergency powers, and a referendum on Texas independence were all frequent topics.
Where Abbott touted the $17 billion investment from Samsung for a new microchip plant in Taylor, his opponents decried the hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local subsidies and tax breaks.
Where the governor flaunted Texas’ status as the ninth-largest economy in the world and the 73 companies that have relocated their headquarters to the state in the past year, his challengers criticized the state and local closure orders that forced thousands of businesses to close their doors, many never to reopen.
And where Abbott plugged the state’s balanced budget, his primary opponents called for a robust effort to cut spending.
The GOP primary race for governor has been marked by the incumbent’s public disregard, and the group of challengers grasping and clawing at any issue that may knock their opponent down a peg.
Prather has said frequently “anyone but Abbott” on the campaign trail.
One issue above all others in importance to the candidates is the border crisis. The primary opponents all generally agreed it to be the biggest issue in this race, and Abbott has spilled more ink on it than perhaps he’d like. For the current turmoil, Abbott aims his fire at the White House while his opponents point the blame at the governor’s mansion.
Most of the audience Huffines, Prather, and West were speaking to — organized by Grassroots Victory Texas and the Brazos County GOP — have long been disenchanted with Abbott.
And introducing Abbott at the TPPF luncheon were Paul Hodson and Tamara Colbert, co-founders of Grassroots Gold.
While both the governor and his challengers are pursuing the same constituency, GOP primary voters, their tactics are almost entirely dissimilar. Appeals to the grassroots are key for each candidate, and while Abbott hopes to sail through the primary and secure his focus on the general election where Beto O’Rourke likely awaits, March 1 is the first stop on that path.
But all paths forward for any of the candidates lead to the GOP primary ballot, and those voters will have the definitive say.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.