A now perennial candidate, O’Rourke hopes the third time’s the charm in his pursuit for a higher office than the congressional seat he held for three terms before challenging Cruz in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.
O’Rourke has long hinted at this campaign, entertaining the idea for much of this year. But his focus during 2021 was on mounting opposition to the Texas legislature’s GOP-backed election reform bills.
“Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to and trusting the people of Texas,” O’Rourke said in an announcement, keying in on the February blackouts. “They’re not focused on the things that we really want them to do like making sure we have a functioning electricity grid, or that we’re creating the best jobs in America right here in Texas, that we have world-class schools, or focusing on things that most of us actually agree on like expanding Medicaid or legalizing marijuana.”
“Instead, they’re focusing on the kind of extremist policies around abortion, permitless carry, or even in our schools that really only divide us,” he added.
His PAC, Powered by People, raised and spent over $2 million during the first half of 2021. Among their contributions was $600,000 to the group of Texas House Democrats that fled to Washington, D.C.
During the 2018 race, O’Rourke positioned himself away from the Democratic Party’s furthest left flank. During that campaign, while advocating certain gun control policies, O’Rourke stopped short of confiscation — a position he dramatically flipped during the presidential race. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he famously shouted.
He reportedly isn’t backing down from his position in favor of a so-called “mandatory buyback” program.
O’Rourke lost to Cruz by fewer than 215,000 votes but never polled above 10 percent during the presidential race. He was polling near 2 percent when he called it quits.
Governor Greg Abbott has his own primary to worry about for the moment, the toughest of his career so far. But his campaign already had an eye on O’Rourke weeks before the challenge became official, releasing campaign ads hitting O’Rourke for his positions on the Green New Deal, police defunding, and the border crisis.
His campaign has also sent out multiple fundraising emails featuring O’Rourke’s rumored candidacy.
Abbott’s campaign communications director, Mark Miner, released a statement following O’Rourke’s announcement on Monday morning.
“From Beto O’Rourke’s reckless calls to defund the police to his dangerous support of the Biden Administration’s pro-open border policies, which have resulted in thousands of fentanyl deaths, Beto O’Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans,” said Miner.
“The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke. The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn’t be clearer.”
According to polling from the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, Abbott’s at a -5 percent net approval rating. O’Rourke’s net approval rating, meanwhile, is -15 percent. In a hypothetical general election matchup between Abbott and O’Rourke, the governor currently leads by 9 percent.
O’Rourke has at his disposal a network and support base that stems from his 2018 debut, was carried through the presidential bid, and has been reengaged this year in the fight over Texas’ election reform.
The fall from Texas Democratic golden boy to presidential flameout was swift, but O’Rourke hopes to replicate the momentum he secured during the race that made him a national household name.
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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.