Beto O’Rourke joins Texas gubernatorial race

Republican Greg Abbott has occupied the Texas Governor's Mansion since 2015. The last Democrat to live here was Ann Richards back in 1990, and that was just for 1 term.  

On Monday, Robert "Beto" O'Rourke officially became the latest to try to take the keys to the mansion away from the GOP. "I'm running for governor and I want to tell you why," he said.

In a social media post Monday morning O'Rourke started his race for the top job in Texas. As for the why, O'Rourke cited things like the power grid crisis this past winter and hard-right legislation pushed under the Texas State Capitol dome.

"Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to serving and paying attention to and trusting the people of Texas," O'Rourke said. "And so they're not focused on the things that we really want them to do, like making sure that we have a functioning electricity grid or that we're creating the best jobs in America right here in Texas, or that we have world class schools, or that we make progress on the things that most of us actually agree on, like expanding Medicaid or legalizing marijuana."

"In many ways it is a Hail Mary, but when you look at the Democrats, they don't have anybody else who's going to be able to match Beto's fundraising or his name recognition. They have a very short bench," St. Edward's University political science professor Brian Smith said.

O'Rourke is launching a campaign in a much different climate than in his previous attempts.

"He's definitely swimming against the tide when he ran in 2018. He was all things to all people, because we didn't know a lot about him. We knew he wasn't Ted Cruz. We knew Donald Trump had very low presidential popularity. We knew it was going to be a Democratic wave. He had all that in his favor. Still couldn't win," said Smith. "Now everything's flipped. An unpopular Democratic president, a governor who is more popular than Ted Cruz. And a lot of people have formed their opinions about Beto, and some are good. But some are not."

As O'Rourke immediately launched a multi-city campaign road trip. Abbott was in Floresville welcoming a state house member who flipped from being a Democrat to the GOP. "I welcome the challenge," he said.

Abbott and Republicans immediately went on the attack. On social media an image of O'Rourke was posted morphing into President Biden. The "Wrong for Texas" theme is expected to include past statements O'Rourke has made, like support for a mandatory gun buy-back program, an open border, federal voting legislation that initially included eliminating Voter ID, and the Green New Deal.

"During his campaign for the presidency, he showed that he really was not so much a Democrat as he was a socialist. He is a part of the Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democrat Party, and that is hostile to the state of Texas," said Abbott.

Abbott is vulnerable to a challenge, according to Smith, because of his recent hard right policy decisions.

"It does give O'Rourke a bit of issue space. Also, we know Abbott isn't super popular, so O'Rourke's greatest strength is this he doesn't have to be beloved. He just has to be liked more than Abbott. Remember, it's like if you're being chased, two people are being chased by a lion. I don't have to be faster than the lion, Rudy. Just faster than you," said Smith.

This is still a long race with a lot of opportunities to take big political shots at the incumbent; not only from O'Rourke but also from Abbott's GOP primary challengers. 

The political bashing between Abbott and O'Rourke, according to Smith, could hurt them both with independent voters, possibly opening the door for a moderate Democrat, or Independent, to emerge in the race. The filing deadline for candidates is December 13th.

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