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Time for Beto O’Rourke.
The Democratic candidate for governor enters the final stretch of his third campaign in six years with the odds stacked against him. As early voting begins Monday, Republicans are salivating at the prospect of dealing a knockout blow to his political career, while Democrats hope they can prove the polls wrong by turning out a new electorate aligned with GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. .
“This is what upset wins are made of,” O’Rourke said during a break Wednesday in Longview. “You start taking people for granted, especially here in Texas, and that means the end of your time in that position.”
While O’Rourke has worked to galvanize Democrats on issues such as abortion access and broken fundraising records, he has trailed Abbott by at least single digits in nearly every likely voter poll in recent months, including the latest poll released Friday that widened the gap to 11 points. O’Rourke dismissed the deficits, saying polls don’t fully capture new voters — and that polls underestimated him in his 2018 race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
But Abbott’s leadership has proven more consistent than Cruz’s — one of several differences from the near-miss defeat in 2018 that made O’Rourke a star. The national climate continues to favor Republicans, and President Joe Biden is deeply unpopular in Texas. And Republicans are motivated to finish off the candidate who has almost single-handedly carried the hopes of Texas Democrats for five years.
“Beto keeps coming up in Texas politics because it energizes the Democratic Party, but if you look at it, objectively, how many times can you fail, can you lose, to still be a viable candidate?” said Matt Langston, Republican a Texas-based strategist. “He can’t close the deal – and Abbott will be the one to put the nail in the coffin.”
O’Rourke’s campaign is betting that its grassroots game, with more than 100,000 active volunteers, will be more important to the upset than any TV ad. And he still sees abortion rights as something of a sleeping giant issue that will upset traditional assumptions about elections.
A third of Republican women support abortion in all or most cases, according to a statewide poll released Monday by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. Data like this indicate that O’Rourke’s supporters hope he can change the paradigm in Texas politics.
“This is an issue that is fracturing the GOP on top of other issues where you see extremism repulsive to a different kind of small-government, pro-business Republican,” said Diana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “I think Beto has a really strong connection with voters and communities on this issue.” At the end of the day, Texans really value freedom and family and the freedom to make the best decision for their families.”
When early voting began four years ago for O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate race, Republicans began to feel a sense of relief after a summer in which he emerged as a formidable challenger and national political star. The battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation energized Republicans, a barrage of attack ads took its toll on O’Rourke as he tried to stay positive, and Cruz’s campaign boasted an 11-point lead in internal polls.
O’Rourke, however, finished strongly to finish just 3 points behind Cruz.
This time around, O’Rourke is a different candidate on multiple fronts. No longer an outsider to the state Democratic Party, he campaigns with fellow candidates and shares campaign resources. And while he struggled with how hard to go after Cruz for the rest of the 2018 race, he was unsparing in his criticism of Abbott during this race.
But he also had to contend with his long-known vulnerabilities, such as comments he made around his 2020 presidential campaign endorsing the Green New Deal and sympathizing with the movement to defund police departments. However, in a less expected development, Abbott has delayed the long-awaited raids since the Uvalde shooting because of O’Rourke’s 2020 pledge to take away assault rifles.
Ultimately, O’Rourke may not be able to overtake a national middle ground that still favors Republicans, despite a late summer respite that gave Democrats a glimmer of optimism. O’Rourke did not have a lead in any polls, compared to 2018, when he appeared within the margin of error more often and had a lead in at least one poll in September of that year.
O’Rourke’s campaign sought to drum up supporters Sunday by touting a recent poll that showed the race was within the margin of error with registered voters and “definite voters.” The poll was conducted by Beacon Research for the Institute for Democratic Policy, a nonprofit whose executive director was previously identified as a major O’Rourke donor, Alan Matney.
“I don’t think there’s much reason to think about what’s going on in the rest of the country, and I think Texas would be exempt from that,” said Jim Henson, a pollster at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to historical winds. faced by Democrats. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any analysis right now that doesn’t show the medium-term reversion to the expected mean.”
Both candidates will embark on aggressive voting tours starting Monday, with plans to visit multiple cities a day. It will be a particularly significant boost for Abbott, who only runs a few smaller campaigns a week.
For his latest coup, O’Rourke is reviving a tactic from his 2018 campaign – stopping very close to polling places where his supporters can vote immediately after hearing him speak.
As for their closing messages, Abbott is set to continue to emphasize the border, public safety and the economy. He visited Corpus Christi on Thursday to show support for a bipartisan group of sheriffs, praising their “bipartisan working relationship” to secure the border.
“That’s the last time we’re going to hear or see — because we have a three-strikes law and you’re out — Beto O’Rourke,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said at a rally for former President Donald Trump in Robstown. the weekend. “Let’s end it for good.”
O’Rourke is expected to continue to brand Abbott as a right-wing extremist, particularly on abortion and guns. And he argues that this is not the Abbott voters re-elected in 2018, when hundreds of thousands of voters split their ticket between O’Rourke for the U.S. Senate and Abbott for governor.
“We don’t blame you if you voted for Greg Abbott last time,” O’Rourke said in Longview. “That may have been a very sensible decision you made.” But now it is clear that he has failed us and that he cannot do the job. It’s time to turn the page and vote for change.”
On TV, the two are now in an all-out war in the most expensive governor’s race on the airwaves. While Abbott has shamelessly targeted O’Rourke in his TV ads for weeks, O’Rourke released his most negative video yet last week, criticizing Abbott on the grid, guns and abortion.
“How much more do we have to lose because Greg Abbott is governor?” the narrator asks at the end.
If Abbott wins, it could be a particularly disheartening end for O’Rourke, who has become a singular figure in Texas Democratic politics since 2017. Through his US Senate race, 2020 presidential campaign, no-ballot campaign and now governor’s race, O. “Rourke has firmly established himself as the top Democrat in the state, without a close rival.”
As he ended his speech in Longview, O’Rourke acknowledged that the end is near, win or lose.
“The last thing I want to say, because this will probably be the last time as a candidate I’ll be with you in Longview,” O’Rourke said. “I want to say thank you.” We kept coming back to this community. You all kept showing up.”
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood and the University of Texas at Austin have financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in Tribune journalism. Find a complete list of them here.