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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott protects his right flank as Democrats look for 2022 challenger


Greg Abbott’s State of the State message — and the reaction to it — illustrates how the governor plans to rally his political base against the Democrats who are struggling to unseat him.

Abbott has the money and resources to fend off challengers within the GOP, and his popularity makes him formidable against any Democrat in the general election, even as he continues to make appeals to his party’s hard right flank.

His speech last week was a greatest hits of grassroots Republican talking points — from protecting gun rights, curbing abortions, securing the nation’s southern border and getting rid of unnecessary regulations.

And Abbott parroted the concerns expressed by former President Donald Trump about election security, though there is no evidence that widespread voter fraud occurred in national or Texas elections.

“One thing all of us should agree on whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or Independent, is that we must have trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections,” Abbott said. “That’s why election integrity will be an emergency item this session.”

Democrats countered that Abbott was hurting Texas.

“No matter what Abbott says, we have suffered under his watch because of his actions,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “Texans are demanding an end to this pandemic and a fair shot to get ahead. As Barbara Jordan said, what the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.”

Abbott’s political dominance is not good news for Democrats looking to upend him in 2022.

More problematic is that Democrats may have to hustle to round out a statewide ticket against the governor and other Republicans.

Other than former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, it’s unclear if Democrats have a strong contender against Abbott, the GOP’s Goliath.

During his speech, Abbott took a swipe at O’Rourke, promising Texans that he would protect their Second Amendment rights. During a 2020 presidential debate, O’Rourke exuberantly promoted the confiscation of assault weapons, saying “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

“Politicians from the federal level to the local level have shouted: ‘Heck yes, the government is coming to get your guns,’ ” Abbott said of the one-time presidential contender. “We won’t let that happen in Texas.”

DISD Trustee Miguel Solis introduces presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks during a round table event at Casa Komali restaurant on Thursday, May 30, 2019 in Dallas. (Ryan Michalesko/The Dallas Morning News)
DISD Trustee Miguel Solis introduces presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks during a round table event at Casa Komali restaurant on Thursday, May 30, 2019 in Dallas. (Ryan Michalesko/The Dallas Morning News)(Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)

The response to Abbott’s State of the State address was given by an array of voices in the Democratic Party, a signal of the Texas Democrats’ diversity, but also evidence that Democrats need to develop candidates to run for the critical 2022 midterm elections.

Are there any Democrats in Texas ready to challenge Abbott?

Two weeks ago O’Rourke indicated that he was pondering a run for governor, and then tweeted that even if he didn’t challenge Abbott, he would put muscle behind the Democratic Party nominee. The same week former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro opted against being a 2022 gubernatorial candidate. Castro’s twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, could be in the 2022 mix as a statewide candidate, but his stock is rising in a Congress controlled by Democrats. His immediate career path may involve moving up the congressional leadership ladder.

In 2020, Hinojosa wanted either O’Rourke or a Castro on the statewide ticket. He got neither, as O’Rourke and Julián Castro made ill-fated runs for president, and Joaquin Castro opted to remain in Congress.

Hinojosa and other operatives are expected to try to get O’Rourke to run again in 2022, though the former congressman’s barrage of criticism of Sen. Ted Cruz, his 2018 rival, could suggest that O’Rourke would prefer to wait until Cruz’s Senate seat is up again in 2024.

With O’Rourke and the Castro brothers out of the picture, Democrats will have to look elsewhere to find a credible candidate for governor.

The party needs new leaders to emerge, and most of the rising stars are either in Congress or local government.

Abbott is probably more concerned about a challenge from the right than in the general election, which could explain why his speech provided so much red meat for the GOP’s grassroots activists.

Republicans like Texas GOP Party Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, have been critical of Abbott’s mask guidelines and his orders to shelter in place during the early weeks of the pandemic.

But no Texas Republican poised to challenge Abbott has demonstrated the ability to raise the money necessary to contend in what would be a costly primary.

Instead of analyzing if Abbott is beatable in 2022, the better question is will the Texas governor be part of a presidential ticket in 2024.

Stranger things have happened.





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