Texas Democrats have clamored for a formidable challenger to Republican Greg Abbott, who is facing a crowded primary himself. O’Rourke has spent much of this year rallying opposition to the Texas legislature’s election reform bill, even fundraising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the quorum-breaking Democrats.
Over the weekend, Axios reported that O’Rourke would jump into the race “later this year,” according to Texas political operatives.
According to a University of Texas at Tyler poll, O’Rourke’s favorable rating is a net -8 percent while the same poll showed a net +1 percent approval rating for Abbott. That said, when asked for which party they’d vote in the governor’s race, the two parties were deadlocked at 42 percent apiece.
In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, 42 percent of respondents indicated their support for Abbott while O’Rourke pulled in 37 percent.
Nonetheless, Democrats believe with O’Rourke, they’d have a viable if difficult chance at flipping the governor’s mansion — and pulling in support for down-ballot races in the same motion.
O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso, has landed largely in the political wilderness since his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the 2018 Senate race that drew nationwide attention.
His ill-fated presidential bid ended before any of the primary elections began. It was during that flirt with the White House that O’Rourke made the comment for which he is now largely known. During the September 2019 debate, when asked by the moderator if he’d push a gun confiscation initiative, O’Rourke responded with, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
But O’Rourke’s presidential campaign moment flamed out almost as quickly as he uttered that platitude. It also served a significant blow to any potential run down the road back in Texas. During his 2018 race, O’Rourke took a different position on Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty’s show.
“If you purchased that AR-15 [and] own it, keep it,” the Democrat said, adding that AR-15s should no longer be sold.
Should O’Rourke jump in, it’s a sure bet the presidential debate statement will be featured in his opposition’s campaign messaging.
In 2018, O’Rourke’s redoubtable bid for Senate largely created the “Blue Wave” in Texas that resulted in Democrats flipping 12 state House seats, two state senate seats, and two congressional seats. A similar tidal wave that lifted all boats was predicted by some to reoccur in 2020, but that forecast became no more than a ripple as Democrats only held onto their 2018 gains save for flipping back the long-Democratic stronghold of Senate District 19.
While Texas Democrats have a few announced candidates for governor, none are particularly notable, and each is currently outraised by the Green Party’s candidate.
Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, Gilberto Hinojosa, told Axios, “We hope that he’s going to run. We think he’ll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott, because he’s vulnerable.”
With Abbott’s approval ratings dipping to near negative double digits, Democrats and Abbott’s primary challengers alike see some vulnerability in the incumbent.
But the governor’s $55 million war chest is a massive sea wall against any kind of wave O’Rourke may hope to replicate. But the prospective Democratic challenger is a prolific fundraiser in his own right, pulling in $80 million during the 2018 race against Cruz.
A titanic matchup is in store for 2022 should Abbott survive his primary and O’Rourke throw his hat into the ring.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Brad Johnson is 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.