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Beto Faces An Uphill Battle In Texas

Texas Governor’s Race: Can the former congressman from El Paso beat Governor Greg Abbott in 2022?

Beto O'Rourke of Texas

"Read my lips: no new taxes!" roared George Bush 41 at the Republican National Convention in 1988. But, as President two years later, Bush agreed to increase existing taxes in the largest tax increase in American history. Even a 91% popularity rating after winning the first Gulf war wasn't enough to reelect him. Bush soundly lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, 168-370 in the electoral college.

On Monday, another Texan, Beto O'Rourke, who, like Bush, served in the House of Representatives, announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to unseat the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. While Bush's words were far more emphatic, O'Rourke's pledge to a Politico reporter may come back to haunt him.

Two weeks before O'Rourke dropped out of the 2020 Democratic nomination for President, he confidently said "No" to David Siders of Politico when asked if any other political office - such as Texas governor - might appeal to him. "I can't tell you all the reasons why. I just can't even imagine."

Texas Democrats are so hungry to dethrone Abbott that they will likely excuse O'Rourke's flip-flop. In O'Rourke's first statewide campaign against Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, the Democrats finally found a star. Young, dynamic, and often clad in jeans, O'Rourke was a crowd puller at stump speeches. He never forgot to remind his audience that he drove to all 254 Texas counties. That was, by itself, an impressive record given Texas's size. Fifteen of the smallest states can fit into Texas with room to spare.

Democrats are now betting that changing demographics will help O'Rourke's stars. In Frisco, a vibrant, growing suburban area in North Texas, the population of this once-sleepy white-majority community has grown by over 70% in the last decade. The growth mix is crucial to O'Rourke's hopes. The Census Bureau says that nearly 44% of Frisco's population is minority. Asian Americans, in particular, supported him in droves, displeased with Sen. Cruz's conservative record. O'Rourke still lost by three percentage points.

Had O'Rourke gone from that race to now, he may have had a better shot. But O'Rourke entered the 2020 Democratic Presidential contest in March 2019, a year before Covid hit, with much fanfare. He raised a record $6 million in contributions on the day of his announcement, mostly from out-of-state loyalists who had bankrolled him in the senate election.

A lot has changed since then. O'Rourke was a poor 2020 performer and was one of 18 candidates, along with VP Kamala Harris, who suspended his campaign before the first primary vote in Iowa. After the El Paso shootings, his "Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15!" response on Sept. 12, 2019, was a debate gaffe akin to Terry McAuliffe's "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach" line.

O'Rourke's gun buyback mantra may have earned him accolades with the media elite, but a majority of Texans love their guns. With Governor Abbott signing the permitless carry law, Texans can now carry handguns without licenses or training. The race could well be decided on gun control alone.

Texans are also tired of illegal border crossings. O'Rourke's position on immigration was relatively moderate, but the Democratic party, pressed by progressives, has pushed the issue way leftward.

If O'Rourke embraces his party's position, he will likely lose the Hispanic vote, which is increasingly moving towards the GOP in elections straddling the border. In 2020, Laredo and McAllen increased former President Trump's victory margin by an astounding 23% over 2016. Trump carried Texas by six percentage points in 2020, where he is still popular.

If O'Rourke moves right on immigration, he will get crushed by fellow Democrats. Just ask Julián Castro.

Biden is deeply unpopular in the Lone Star State, Kamala Harris, even more so. No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1990.

O'Rourke faces an uphill battle. An exciting contest is ahead.


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