Democratic former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke confirmed Monday that he will run for Texas governor next year, his latest bid for high office after two campaigns that have received much media attention, but had no success at the ballot box.
O’Rourke is the immediate front-runner to win the Democratic primary and challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who will be seeking his third term next year.
“It’s not going to be easy [to win]. But it is possible,” O’Rourke told the Associated Press prior to his announcement. “I do believe very strongly, from listening to people in this state, that they’re very unhappy with the direction that Greg Abbott has taken Texas.”
O’Rourke burst onto the national scene when he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2018, raising $80 million and losing by just 2.6 percentage points. The close-run race burnished O’Rourke’s mainstream media profile, highlighted by a Vanity Fair cover story in March 2019. He announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president that same month, but suspended his campaign in November 2019 after failing to gain traction in the polls or among Democratic donors.
Texas Democrats have struggled for months to identify a challenger to Abbott, resulting in a “Beto or bust” plan reflecting the enduring skepticism even in their own ranks. No other Democrats have entered the race or have flirted with challenging Abbott.
Unlike in 2018 or 2020, O’Rourke will seek the Texas governorship in an anti-Democratic political environment. Abbott is also likely to attack O’Rourke on his support of mandatory gun buybacks, which O’Rourke expressed during a September 2019 Democratic primary debate with the statement: “Hell, yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15.“
“I don’t think that’s gonna sell real well,” Abbott said of the remark in January.
On Monday, O’Rourke told AP that does not believe Texans want to see their families “shot up with weapons that were designed for war” and criticized Abbott for dropping background check and training requirements for concealed handgun permits.
O’Rourke officially announced his candidacy in a two-minute video, in which he criticizes a state Republican agenda that he says ignores things voters “actually agree on,” such as expanding Medicare and legalizing marijuana.
“Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to the people of Texas,” he said.
Abbott has emerged in recent month as a persistent critic of the Biden administration on the issue of illegal immigration. He has also attempted to ban schools and businesses from implementing mask mandates, forced through an election reform law that Democrats alleged sought to dampen minority turnout, and enacted the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation.
All three of those orders or laws are being challenged in court, the latter two by the Justice Department. Last week, a federal judge ruled that the ban on mask mandates violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Despite Abbott’s rightward tack, he faces a primary challenge led by two far-right firebrands — former Texas Republican Party chairman and Florida congressman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Abbott but also has pressured him to audit the state’s 2020 election results, which the governor has declined to do.
The Texas governor enters the race with a $55 million campaign war chest, the biggest of any incumbent governor in the country.
“The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke,” Abbott spokesman Mark Miner said following O’Rourke’s announcement. “The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn’t be clearer.”
With Post wires