Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas in 2022, challenging the Republican incumbent Greg Abbott with a pledge to avoid the culture-war politics that have turned off some business groups and instead focus on quality-of-life issues.
The Democrat said Abbott’s administration has been prioritizing issues like abortion and gun rights at the expense of day-to-day concerns like the resiliency of the electricity grid, the quality of schools and availability of jobs.
“They’re focusing on the kind of extremist policies around abortion or permit-less carry or even in our schools that really only divide us, keep us apart, stop us from working together on the truly big things we want to achieve,” O’Rourke said in a video on his website. “It’s a really small vision for such a big state.”
The 49-year-old former congressman will face an uphill battle in his quest for the governor’s mansion, with early polls showing him trailing significantly behind Abbott before what could be a tough election year for Democrats nationwide. O’Rourke lost a campaign for Senate in 2018 to Ted Cruz by more than 2 percentage points, and was also an early contender in the 2020 presidential election before dropping out. No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1992.
O’Rourke has said for months he was considering a run for governor and is seen as the leading Democratic contender, although he will face at least two lesser-known challengers in the party primary and others could announce before the filing deadline Dec. 13. The actor Matthew McConaughey, a native Texan and resident of Austin, has also flirted with the idea of running. Abbott is seeking his third term in office.
Abbott’s campaign said O’Rourke is too liberal for Texas when it comes to issues like immigration, support for the police and economic policies. “The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke,” Mark Miner, the communications director for Texans For Greg Abbott, said in a statement.
The governor can also point to an economic boom in the state under his watch. Texas’s population has surged by more than 4 million over the past decade as it became one of the fastest growing economies in the U.S., and companies including Tesla Inc., Oracle Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. have relocated to the state, where taxes are low and real estate is relatively inexpensive compared to coastal cities.
But employers and economists have also raised concerns that Abbott’s prioritization of culture-war issues -- such as efforts to ban some books from school libraries, a law that effectively forbids abortions past six weeks into a pregnancy and rules that limit mask mandates and vaccine requirements during the pandemic -- makes it harder to do business in the state and attract talent.
So far, it looks like O’Rourke may have a tough race. A November poll from the University of Texas and Texas Tribune showed that in a match up between Abbott and O’Rourke, the Republican had a nine-point lead. The incumbent governor will face some primary challengers within his own party, notably Don Huffines and Allen West, who have been criticizing Abbott from the right.
Born in El Paso, Texas, O’Rourke served as congressman for six years. He gained a statewide profile in the 2018 race for senate but lost the election by more than 2 percentage points.
O’Rourke said in his campaign video that his focus would be on shoring up the electricity grid after Texas’s devastating blackout in February, as well as issues “most people agree on,” such as expanding Medicaid and legalizing marijuana. He’s said in the past that he’s in favor of abolishing the death penalty and banning assault weapons. He’s also pro-choice.
“I want to serve this state and try to bring the people of Texas together to do some of the really big work that is before us and get past this smallness and divisiveness that Greg Abbott has brought to Texas,” he told Texas Monthly.