AUSTIN, Texas - Democrat Beto O'Rourke has announced he is running for Governor of Texas.
O'Rourke made the announcement on social media saying, "Together, we can push past the small and divisive politics that we see in Texas today — and get back to the big, bold vision that used to define Texas. A Texas big enough for all of us."
In a two-minute video, O'Rourke directly speaks to the camera and criticizes a GOP agenda that he says ignores things voters "actually agree on," such as expanding Medicare and legalizing marijuana. "Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to the people of Texas," he said.
This will be O'Rourke's third run for office in as many election cycles. The former U.S. Representative represented Texas' 16th congressional district, which includes almost all of El Paso, from 2013-2019. He also has made runs for the U.S. Senate, in which he lost a close race to Senator Ted Cruz, and for the Democratic U.S. presidential nomination in 2020.
"It's not going to be easy. But it is possible," O'Rourke said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his announcement. "I do believe, very strongly, from listening to people in this state that they're very unhappy with the direction that (Gov.) Greg Abbott has taken Texas."
O'Rourke's announcement sets up a high-profile 2022 race that has the potential to be one of the most expensive races for governor as Republican Abbott seeks a third term.
The outlook does not look good as Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since Ann Richards in 1990. Freshly gerrymandered political maps, signed into law by Abbott in October, also bolster Republicans' standing in booming suburban districts that have been drifting away from the party which could mean fewer competitive races and lower turnout.
But there are some hopeful signs. A recent poll from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University's Baker Institute showed O'Rourke virtually tied with Governor Greg Abbott in a hypothetical matchup.
O'Rourke will have to win over not only hundreds of thousands of new voters but some of his old ones. When O'Rourke lost to Republican Sen. Cruz by just 2.5 percentage points, Abbott won reelection by double digits that same year, reflecting a large number of Texans who voted for O'Rourke and for the GOP governor.
Abbott's job approval rating has slipped during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 70,000 Texans, as well as a deadly winter blackout that darkened the nation's energy capital and a legislative session that passed new barriers to voting and effectively banned most abortions in the state. Abbott also aggressively bucked the Biden administration's pandemic policies, angering some of Texas' largest schools and employers by banning mask and vaccine mandates.
Gov. Abbott does face some primary challengers, including former Florida congressman Allen West. Abbott enters the race with a $55 million campaign war chest, the biggest of any incumbent governor in the country.
No other Democrats have entered the race or have flirted with challenging Abbott but actor Matthew McConaughey, who lives in Austin, has teased a run for governor for months but has not said whether he would make one as a Republican or a Democrat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.