Beto O’Rourke announces campaign for Texas governor

November 15, 2021
Beto O'Rourke speaks during the voting rights rally “For the People: The Texas Drive For Democracy” at the Texas Capitol on Sunday, June 20, 2020.
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AUSTIN, Texas – Beto O’Rourke said Monday morning he’s running for governor, ending months of speculation with a two-minute videotaped message that hammers Republican incumbent Greg Abbott for pushing “a really small vision” for a state as big as Texas.

O’Rourke, a former three-term Democratic congressman from El Paso, said he envisions a state where people are “working together on the truly big things we want to achieve for one another.” 

“I’m running to see if I can help bring the state together to do some of the really big things that we need to be focused on and get us past the very small divisive politics and policies that Greg Abbott has been pursuing for most of my fellow Texans,” O’Rourke, 49, told the American-Statesman on Sunday before releasing his formal announcement that was recorded in front of mountains in El Paso.

O’Rourke is the first high-profile Democrat to announce his intention to run for the seat, giving his party a serious contender at the top of the ticket. Democrats are hopeful his gubernatorial campaign will replicate the success O’Rourke saw in 2018, when he came within 2.6 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

The competitive campaign catapulted him into national conversations about the future of the Democratic Party. 

Filing for the Democratic and Republican primaries opened Saturday and will close Dec. 15. Former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines are the best-known Republican challengers to Abbott.

More:Amid Beto O’Rourke speculation, Texas Democrats impatient for a decision

For his part, O’Rourke enters the race with his sights set on Abbott. In his announcement video, he discussed the deadly February winter storms and freeze that crippled much of Texas’ electricity grid and left millions of Texans without power and running water, and led to hundreds of deaths.

“They were abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them,” he said. “It’s a symptom of a much larger problem that we have in Texas right now. Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to and trusting the people of Texas.”

O’Rourke faulted Abbott, who faces opposition from his right flank heading into the March GOP primary, for giving short shrift to addressing Texas’ urgent concerns and focusing on such issues as allowing the unlicensed carrying of handguns, limiting abortion rights and targeting transgender children who wish to compete in interscholastic sports.

More:Beto O’Rourke, Luci Baines Johnson speak at Austin voting rights rally on Father’s Day

Abbott was ready for O’Rourke

Abbott, who enters the 2022 campaign cycle with a war chest topping $50 million, has been anticipating O’Rourke’s entry into the race for weeks.

As recently as Sunday evening, Abbott’s campaign posted a web ad laying the blame for the recent surge in illegal border crossings at O’Rourke’s feet.

The spot shows O’Rourke telling an audience, “We don’t need any walls to solve a problem we do not have.” That follows news footage of hundreds of migrants wading across the Rio Grande near Del Rio.

Earlier messages from Abbott’s campaign highlighted O’Rourke’s promise on the presidential campaign trail that he favored the government taking away assault-style military rifles from civilians.

O’Rourke did not address that comment in his announcement message, but said during Sunday’s interview that some of the worst mass shootings in American history occurred in Texas over the past five years.

“Most of us in Texas don’t want to see our family members or friends or classmates shot up with weapons that were designed for use on a battlefield,” he said, referencing such recent mass shootings as the November 2017 massacre at a Sutherland Springs Church during Sunday services and that attack targeting Mexicans at an El Paso shopping center in August 2019.

More:Here’s why both parties might be saying ‘Run, Beto, run’ in 2022 race for Texas governor

“But I think what really concerns the people of Texas, when you’re talking about proposals and policies, is this permitless carry bill that Abbott signed into law,” O’Rourke said.

“There were 35,000 licenses to carry a firearm to the public that were denied or revoked by law enforcement over the last five years.” He added, “You can imagine how many tens of thousands more didn’t even apply because they knew that they would not pass the background check.”

O’Rourke and Biden

Abbott has also sought to tie O’Rourke to Democratic President Joe Biden, who lost Texas to then-President Donald Trump by about 6 percentage points in 2020 and whose favorability ratings in the state remain anemic. That could prove problematic for Democrats running statewide next year.

For his part, O’Rourke made no effort to distance himself from Biden and in the interview praised the president’s recent achievements.

“If he wants to talk about President Biden. I’m happy to do that,” O’Rourke said. “Thanks to his recovery act, more than 500,000 Texas kids are — as we speak — being lifted out of poverty. Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure deal that was negotiated with Republicans as well as Democrats, we’re going to have $100 million in Texas to connect rural communities to broadband internet. We’re going to have billions for roads and bridges and transportation, infrastructure.”

More:Beto O’Rourke discusses run for president, why he’s the one to battle Trump on border

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