DemDaily: Beto Takes On Texas

November 19, 2021 

Former Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke announced his challenge to Texas' incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott on Monday, saying, "Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to, and trusting the people of Texas."

In a campaign video announcing his run, O'Rouke presented his candidacy as an alternative to the "extremist policies" of the state's Republican leadership.

Although O'Rourke faces considerable challenges in his bid for the governor's mansion, which Democrats have not held since 1995, the maverick candidate has previously been undaunted in his runs for public office.

Robert Francis O'Rourke, 49, was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of a small businesswoman who owned a furniture store and an El Paso County Commissioner and County Judge. Although of Irish-Welsh descent, he goes by the Spanish nickname "Beto" (BET-O) and is fluent in Spanish.

A graduate of Columbia University, he was elected to the El Paso City Council in 2005, defeating a two-term incumbent. In 2012, he unseated eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary to represent Texas' 16th congressional district in the US House of Representatives.

In 2018, Congressman Beto O'Rourke become a national phenomenon in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz for his US Senate seat, which Cruz had won in 2012 by more than 15%.

Although no Democrat has been elected to statewide office in Texas since 1994, O'Rourke came within 3% points of beating Cruz.

In the process the charismatic Democrat raised $80 million, the most raised in a US Senate race in history, and turned out millennials and support from the Latino community in record numbers, helping put Texas into play as a potential swing state in 2020.

In March of 2019, O'Rourke threw his hat into the crowded Democratic field for President, dropping out eight months later.

The 2022 Texas governor's race has already broken fundraising records. In the first 24 hours of announcing his gubernatorial bid, Beto O'Rourke raised $2 million, the most raised in that timeframe of any campaign in 2021. Beto faces formidable fundraising opposition in Abbott, however, who had $55 million cash on hand as of June.

The Lone Star State

Texas was dominated by Democratic politics for over 100 years until the late 1990's when Governor George Bush (R) was re-elected and Republicans swept all statewide offices in 1998. The state's Republican control became complete in 2002 when the GOP won the state House for the first time since Reconstruction.

Texas has not elected a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976. The southern border state delivered a 52.06% to 46.48% victory for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, and a coveted 38 electoral votes - the second largest in the nation.

Republicans control all statewide Texas offices and both houses of the state legislature, with an 18-13 majority in the State Senate and 83-67 majority in the State House. On Monday, longtime Democratic State Representative Ryan Guillen announced he was switching parties after the new Republican-led redistricting map transformed the lawmaker’s already GOP-leaning district in the Rio Grande Valley into reliably red territory.

Republicans have complete control of the redistricting process in Texas, as any new maps are drawn and passed by the Republican-held state legislature and signed into law by the Republican governor.

The congressional delegation consists of 36 members, with 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

In an October, 2021 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, Abbott led O'Rourke 46% to 37%, with 7% preferring someone else and 10% undecided.

Governor Greg Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice and State Attorney General ushering through some of the most conservative laws in the country -- on abortion, guns and voting.

As Attorney General, he successfully advocated for the Texas State Capitol to display the Ten Commandments in the 2005 US Supreme Court case Van Orden v. Perry, and unsuccessfully defended the state's ban on same-sex marriage. He was involved in numerous lawsuits against the Barack Obama administration, seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act and the administration's environmental regulations.

Abbott was elected Governor in 2014 by 19 points, and reelected in 2018, defeated Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez with 56% of the vote.

As Governor, Abbott supported the Donald Trump administration and has promoted a conservative agenda -- including measures against abortion such as the Texas Heartbeat Act, promoted more lenient gun laws and restrictions, opposed illegal immigration, opposed decreasing law enforcement funding, and promoted election reforms to reduce the probability of non-citizens voting and secure elections.

After navigating the coronavirus pandemic, February’s winter weather disaster and a series of contentious legislative sessions, the governor’s approval rating has sunk to the lowest it has been since he took office in 2014, at 43% approval/48% disapproval.
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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: New York Times, Texas Tribute, Ballotpedia

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