HOUSTON – Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who became a Democrat sweetheart after defeating Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, comes very close to announcing a Texas gubernatorial nomination, according to three people who have talked to him.
In recent weeks, Mr. O’Rourke has been making calls to Democratic leaders across Texas to inform them that he is seriously considering taking on Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who will be re-elected next year. And he has started talking to supporters to get them into the campaign staff. A decision could be made in the coming weeks, the three people said, possibly as early as October.
Texas Democrats have been urging Mr. O’Rourke to enter the running to govern almost from the moment he left the 2020 presidential race, a quixotic effort that soon stumbled and failed to gain strength in a crowded primary camp.
But despite his problems on the national scene, Mr. O’Rourke has maintained a deep source of support in Texas, where many Democrats still display the black and white Beto posters of the 2018 campaign on his turf and in the their cars.
O’Rourke did not respond to calls or text messages seeking comment.
David Wysong, a longtime adviser to Mr O’Rourke, warned that “no decision has been made” on the candidacy for governor. The three people who discussed their conversations with Mr. O’Rourke are Democratic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about conversations that were to be private.
No Democrat has been elected governor of Texas since Ann Richards in 1990. And no prominent Democrat has appeared to take over Mr. Abbott next year. The governor, who has amassed a war box of more than $ 55 million, has appeared more concerned with isolating himself from the challengers of his right in Republican primaries than with worrying about the general election.
But Democrats see a possible opening.
In recent months, Texas has bounced back from crisis to crisis, including an increase in pandemic deaths and a winter power grid failure, while Republican leaders in Austin have led the state even further to the right in matters. , from guns to elections. abortion. In a poll last month, a majority of Texans told pollsters they thought the state was heading in the wrong direction.
Amid political turmoil, O’Rourke has remained active in the state. “Not only has he been making statements, but he’s been knocking on doors, leading marches, organizing rallies across the state,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, president of the Texas Democratic Party.
Hinojosa said the Supreme Court’s decision to pass a new strict abortion law passed by the Texas legislature had galvanized many state Democrats. The new law effectively prohibits the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy and is structured in such a way as to avoid an immediate judicial challenge.
“All this abortion legislation has changed the dynamic incredibly,” he said.
In the 2018 campaign, Mr. O’Rourke demonstrated that he was able to energize Democrats, raise large sums of money, and campaign aggressively across Texas, a large and notoriously difficult place to campaign across the country. state.
Even in defeat, his margin against current incumbent Cruz (51-48 percent) helped lift Democratic candidates in local races and led to gains in the state legislature that year. The prospect of a Mr. O’Rourke’s run against Mr. Abbott – reported by Axios on Sunday – would present Democrats with the biggest and most direct test to date in their attempts to loosen the Republican takeover of power in Texas.
During his failed presidency, O’Rourke took positions, including a hard line on the confiscation of assault weapons, that could make him vulnerable in any new campaign in Texas. “Hell yes, we’ll take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during a Democratic debate in Houston in 2019, referring to the military-style rifles that have been used in mass shootings.
David Carney, Mr. Abbott’s campaign adviser and longtime Republican political consultant, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. O’Rourke jumped into the race.
“O’Rourke has been planning to run since he was crushed on his presidential flop,” Carney said. “It’s a goal-rich environment, with positions, mainstream output.”