After Summer of Legislative War, Texas Republicans, Democrats Prepare for 2022 Election Season
After three legislative sessions, three quorum breaks, constant battles over pandemic mask mandates and hundreds of new laws produced by the GOP, the 2022 political season is underway.
Voters in Texas will decide next year whether to keep Republicans in power or welcome Democrats out of the wilderness. Labor Day is the traditional start of a political cycle. And while the campaign season in Texas and across the country is more perpetual than ever, the late summer vacation is a relevant marker of 2022.
Lawmakers ended a controversial legislative session on Thursday, the second convened by Governor Greg Abbott after a regular session impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Lawmakers have yet to return to Austin, possibly this fall, to redraw the electoral boundaries of state and Congress. Their action-packed summer will serve as a rallying cry for Republicans and Democrats in a massive midterm poll with the governor’s office at the top.
Heads of state are hopeful that the redistribution will be done in time for the March primaries and that the general elections, as always, will take place in November.
Texas Republicans will enter the 2022 political season with a strong advantage over Democrats who are still on the hunt for a gubernatorial candidate, while deflecting an unfavorable national climate that could impact the midterm elections.
Abbott is running for his third term, a feat that would see him match Rick Perry as Texas’ longest-serving governor. Another re-election will put him in the running for a GOP spot on a national ticket, although just like Perry, he will be an underdog against more well-known contenders, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former President Donald Trump.
“Organizationally, we are stronger than ever, with strong supporters, volunteers and structure,” said Dave Carney, longtime chief consultant for Abbott. “We’re going to have a great crop of applicants statewide for state and local offices. It bodes well for a very strong general election.
Carney added that “the Regular Session and Special Sessions have produced some truly excellent work that Republicans will be proud to campaign on and talk about.”
Much of the GOP’s action will occur in competitive primaries, the result of some of the higher office holders, or the more ardent party activists trying to beat the right flank office holders.
Former GOP State Senator Donald Huffines of Dallas and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West challenge Abbott in the Republican primary. Perhaps the marquee game in the Republican realm is the main one for Attorney General, where besieged incumbent Ken Paxton seeks re-election for a third term against Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Justice of Texas Supreme Court Eva Guzman.
Carney dismissed the challenges of Huffines and West, describing Abbott’s main battle as just a practice round for the general election.
“I would say we call it a big dress rehearsal for the general election,” Carney said. “It helps us develop our muscle memory for strong participation.”
Huffines said he was “energized” and ready to defeat Abbott.
“Everywhere I go Texans are frustrated by Greg Abbott’s failure to secure the border, give property tax relief or keep the other promises he made during the election campaign,” said Huffins. “We have already changed the course of Texas by forcing Abbott to at least recognize the open border and recently revealing the radical transgender ideology that Abbott’s state agency was pushing on the children of Texas.”
Democrats approach the 2022 season with much less optimism. At best, many of their agents see 2022 as another pivotal year, unless they find a miraculous candidate against Abbott who can raise big bucks, mobilize voters across the state, and carry a message spoken with charisma.
Party leaders hope the candidate is former US Representative Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat who in 2018 raised $ 80 million and rose to 2.6 percentage points to beat incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz. He followed that up with a 2020 loss in the Democratic presidential primary, where his progressive stance on gun control and other issues may have hurt him with many voters in Texas.
“Hell yes,” he said when asked in a presidential debate if he supported a policy of confiscating weapons like the popular AR-15 rifle.
Since then, O’Rourke has launched a popular PAC called Powered by People that focuses on voter registration and mobilization. This summer, he led a 27-mile march from Georgetown to the State Capitol to protest the controversial GOP election bill soon to be enacted. And his group recently announced a tool to facilitate voter registration.
O’Rourke has not made a decision on whether to challenge Abbott, causing heartburn for Democrats who fear they will end up without a major candidate. In 2018, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa attempted to recruit a prominent Democrat to run for governor, but had to settle for the lesser-known Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County Sheriff, as a candidate for his party.
But for 2022, other legitimate candidates could emerge. Former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has not ruled out a candidacy for governor, one of his aides said last week.
But even with O’Rourke or Castro in the lead, Democrats face a tough national climate. The ruling party typically absorbs losses in the midterm elections, and President Joe Biden has done little to reverse that trend, analysts say.
“Our goal should not be victory. Our goal should be to improve and improve our fundamentals, ”said veteran Democratic strategist Colin Strother. “If we have a strong candidate for governor, that’s great. If we don’t, that’s fine too. Ultimately, our goals should be the same. Increase registrations, improve engagement, modernize and professionalize our campaign operations, ensure that our incumbents are truly part of the process and help the rest of the ticket.
Strother, however, added that Abbott is as vulnerable as he has ever been.
A new survey from the University of Texas / Texas Politics Project revealed Abbott’s approval rating had dropped to 41%, with 50% disapproving of his job performance. The survey found that 52% of Texans believe the state is headed in the wrong direction. The mood of those interviewed is being shaped by the resurgence of the coronavirus, according to the director of the Texas Politics Project, Jim Henson.
“There is general discontent and apathy there,” Henson said.
Strother said O’Rourke could help Democrats craft the narrative that Abbott is leading Texas in the wrong direction.
“Democrats need to be able to tell this story and we have historically struggled to do so,” Strother said. “We talk too much about our feelings and our programs. Republicans talk about values and trivia because that’s how voters treat information.
But Abbott’s consultant Carney lambasted the idea that Democrats had a chance to break through in 2022. He compared Democrats to the longtime foil of the Harlem Globetrotter basketball team.
“The Democrats in Texas remind me of the generals in Washington,” he said. “For two decades, they have played their role perfectly. They are just a bunch of unlucky people who can’t get out of their own way. Now they are fighting among themselves. They have their own caucuses. They talk about putting each other first. It’s great to see Democrats in such disarray.
In other statewide general elections, Houston area accountant Mike Collier is seeking revenge against incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In 2018, Patrick beat Collier by five percentage points.
Former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski and Dallas-based civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt are vying for the Democratic Party primary for attorney general in hopes of challenging Paxton, if he overtakes Bush and Guzman.
The redistribution will prepare the ground for the races in Congress and the legislative elections. With the Republicans in charge of the process, they will likely consolidate their advantage in the Texas House and Senate.
Texas will get two new seats in Congress, and it’s possible one of them will be placed in North Texas.
State Representative Matt Krause R-Fort Worth said the 2022 election cycle finds Republicans in their best political position in years.
“Over the past two election cycles, we’ve had some headwinds to overcome,” Krause said. “This time we have the wind at our back.