Democrat Beto O’Rourke is running for Texas governor in 2022

Former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks during a protest against Texas lawmakers who are proposing a series of new voting restrictions in Austin, Texas on May 8, 2021.

Mikala Compton | Reuters

Democrat Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas, pursuing a blue breakthrough in America’s largest red state after his star campaign for the US Senate in 2018 brought him closer than anyone for decades .

O’Rourke’s announcement on Monday kicks off a third candidacy in as many election cycles. He broke into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary as a party freak, but dropped out eight months later as money and fanfare dried up.

“It won’t be easy. But it is possible,” O’Rourke said in an interview with The Associated Press before his announcement. “I really believe, listening to the people in this state, that they are very unhappy with the direction that (Governor) Greg Abbott has taken in Texas.”

O’Rourke’s return sets up one of the most high-profile – and potentially the most expensive – races of 2022 for governorship. Abbott, a Republican, is running for a third term and has put Texas at the forefront of hard-right policymaking in state capitals and has become a national figure. A challenge from O’Rourke, a media-savvy former congressman with a generation record of attention and money, could spur Democrats nationwide to pay millions of dollars to try – again – to overthrow Texas.

Yet O’Rourke returns an underdog. While the growing population of Latino voters, young people and state graduates is good for Democrats, the party’s spending blitz in the 2020 presidential election left them nothing.

Former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks during a protest against Texas lawmakers who are proposing a series of new voting restrictions in Austin, Texas on May 8, 2021.

Mikala Compton | Reuters

The outlook for Democrats nationwide is even worse as next year’s midterm elections approach. Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Ann Richards in 1990. And freshly crafted political maps, signed by Abbott in October, bolster Republicans’ position in burgeoning suburban neighborhoods moving away from the party. This could mean less competitive races and lower participation.

O’Rourke, 49, will have to win over not only hundreds of thousands of new voters but some of his old ones as well. When O’Rourke lost to Republican Senator Ted Cruz by just 2.5 percentage points, Abbott was re-elected in double digits the same year, reflecting a large number of Texans who voted for O’Rourke and for the governor of the GOP.

This cross-appeal was the hallmark of a Senate campaign propelled by forceful rallies, ideological blurring and unscripted live broadcasts on social media. But as a presidential candidate, O’Rourke has turned into a liberal champion who has called for slashing immigration law enforcement and mandatory gun buybacks.

In a statement heard from afar in gun-friendly Texas, O’Rourke said, “Damn, yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15.”

“I don’t think it’s going to sell very well,” Abbott said in January.

In the interview, O’Rourke said he would try to reclaim the middle in his gubernatorial run. He lambasted Abbott for a “very extremist and confrontational” agenda aimed at the far right.

Asked about gun control, he said he didn’t believe Texans want their families “shot at with weapons designed for war.” But he quickly turned to Abbott in abolishing background checks and training for concealed handgun licenses, gun regulations that once enjoyed bipartisan support.

O’Rourke argued that the broad coalition of voters that fueled his near upheaval in 2018, which included moderate Republicans, could be re-formed.

“What I’m going to focus on is listening and bringing people together to do the big job that lies ahead,” he said. “And obviously that first big job is to win this election. But the voters and the votes are there.”

O’Rourke is not alone in the race to regain a foothold in Texas.

For most of his six years in office, Abbott had an aura of political invincibility. But his job approval rating slipped during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 70,000 Texans, as well as a fatal winter blackout that has darkened the country’s energy capital and a legislative session that passed de new barriers to voting and effectively banned most abortions in the state. Abbott has also aggressively opposed the Biden administration’s pandemic policies, angering some of Texas’ biggest schools and employers by banning mask and vaccine warrants.

Despite Conservative political victories, Abbott came under pressure from his party’s right wing. Two conservative brandons, including former Florida congressman Allen West, raised the main challenges. Former President Donald Trump backed Abbott, but also pressured him to verify the state’s entire 2020 election results on false fraud allegations, even though he won Texas . Abbott refused.

Yet the governor of Texas enters the race with a campaign war chest of $ 55 million, the biggest of any sitting governor in the country.

Trump was a narrow victory by Texas standards, 5.5 percentage points, a tighter finish than his victory on the legendary Ohio battlefield. To deflated Democrats, it was proof that Texas is spinning – albeit painfully slowly.

The party struggled for months to identify a challenger to Abbott, which resulted in a “Beto or bust” plan reflecting lingering skepticism even within their own ranks. No other Democrat has entered the race or flirted with Abbott’s challenge.

Actor Matthew McConaughey, who lives in Austin, teased a gubernatorial candidacy for months, but has not said whether he would make one as a Republican or a Democrat.

Any hit for O’Rourke will require at least a touch of the magic of his Senate race against Cruz, when the former El Paso punk rocker conquered the suburban moderates and made it to the redder of the 254s. counties of Texas. He said he would run again in tough places for Democrats, who for decades failed to translate the scorching growth and demographic shifts in Texas into a way out of the political wilderness.

Supercharged Texas has reached nearly 30 million people over the past decade and has five of the nation’s 12 largest cities. Texas’ explosive growth is being fueled almost entirely by new residents of Latinos and Blacks, traditionally Democratic voters, and Democrats say these demographic shifts combined with fatigue in the face of GOP crises and culture wars could oust Abbott from office.

Republicans have laughed at O’Rourke as being over the top since he dropped out of the presidential race. One of O’Rourke’s first projects after he ended his White House candidacy – leading a charge to topple the Texas house – failed to land a single extra seat for the Democrats.

Still, it started a reboot for O’Rourke, who teased his run for president with Vanity Fair coverage and introspective blog posts, but has spent much of the past 18 months as an activist and organizer. party. He knocked on doors along the Texas-Mexico border to register new voters and led a nearly 30-mile (48-kilometer) march to the State Capitol.

He also proved that he can still tap into a vast network of donors, which fueled his record $ 80 million in fundraising during his Senate campaign.


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