AUSTIN, TX– Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott decisively won a third term on Tuesday night, beating Democrat Beto O’Rourke in a midterm race that tested the leadership of America’s supersized red state after the massacre of the Uvalde school and a new strict ban on abortion.
The win underscored Abbott’s durability. Despite record spending in the race that topped more than $200 million combined, O’Rourke stood to lose by double digits just four years after his narrow U.S. Senate loss that was the closest by a Texas Democrat in decades. .
“Tonight, Texans sent a very resounding message,” Abbott said during a victory speech in the southern border town of McAllen.
In a rapidly changing Texas — a burgeoning behemoth of 29 million that is getting younger, less white, and a magnet for big business — Abbott has remained a bulwark for the GOP in the face of a high level and relentless challenger. Abbott capitalized on concerns over crime and inflation against a charismatic rival who fought for voters embittered by mass shootings, an abortion ban and the deadly blackout of the state’s power grid in 2021.
The result now puts two of Texas’ biggest political figures — one who has already run for the White House, the other potentially considering his own candidacy — on opposite paths.
Abbott, 64, cemented his position as a potential 2024 presidential candidate and secured his place as the state’s second-longest-serving governor. He has maximized executive power, leading a spectacular $4 billion operation on the US-Mexico border in the name of immigration cuts, while crushing challengers on his right and spending lavishly to ward off legislative critics.
He will remain rocked by a solid GOP majority in the Legislature after a victory that aggressively courted Hispanic voters in South Texas and gripped economic anxieties and recession fears. More than 4 in 10 Texas voters rank the economy as the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, an extensive survey of nearly 3,400 voters.
O’Rourke now wonders if it’s time to move on.
It was his third failed campaign in four years, further clouding the once-bright future of the former congressman who rocketed to Democratic superstardom after nearly winning a U.S. Senate race in 2018.
O’Rourke hasn’t said during a relentless year-long campaign across Texas whether this gubernatorial run will be his last. But the race exposed the damage caused by his extinction in the 2019 Democratic presidential primary, as he had to answer for the liberal positions he took on the national stage that put off the Texans he needed to win back his country.
He also faced headwinds from President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, which Abbott exploited, running ads that turned the faces of O’Rourke and Biden together and portrayed their policies as one and the same. thing. O’Rourke tried to animate Democratic voters over the Uvalde shooting, and Abbott signed an abortion ban that made no exceptions for rape or incest.
About 8 in 10 Texas voters say the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, who recognized a constitutional right to abortion, was a factor in their votes. But only 1 in 10 say abortion is the biggest problem facing the country.
The stakes in the race, O’Rourke said, crystallized over the summer after a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in May and killed 19 children and two teachers. The shooting was one of the deadliest classroom attacks in US history and continued a grim streak of mass shootings in Texas, where Abbott and Republicans relaxed gun laws and eliminated background checks for concealed handguns.
Parents of some of Uvalde’s victims rallied behind O’Rourke and lambasted Abbott at campaign events and television commercials. Abbott, meanwhile, sought to focus the race on a record number of border crossings from Mexico to the United States and provocative measures that included busing hundreds of migrants to Democratic strongholds elsewhere.
If Abbott completes another full term by 2026, he will have served 12 years as governor, second only to Rick Perry, who served 14 years.
They oversaw an era of explosive growth in Texas, which since 2010 has added nearly 4 million people, more than any other state. Hispanics accounted for half of that growth, accelerating demographic shifts that Democrats say will eventually turn Texas in their favor.
But Abbott, whose wife, Cecilia, is Texas’ first Hispanic first lady, sees no such political calculus on the horizon.
In Dallas, Danette Galvis, 48, voted for Abbott, saying she likes the work he has done. In his view, Abbott sending migrants to other states was “more of a message he was trying to send, not so much to harm anything or anyone.”
“We’re kind of under attack just because we’re on the border,” Galvis said.
Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg in Plano, Texas, and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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