Guns. Abortion. . The closely watched Texas gubernatorial race hit the final stretch of the first — and likely only — debate between a Republican incumbent governor Friday night. Greg Abbottand the Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourkeas the candidates faced some of the biggest challenges facing the state’s ballot.
While recent surveys showed O’Rourke trailing Abbott by about 7 points, it could still be the closest Texas governor’s race in years. Abbott won by more than 20 points in 2014 and by more than 13 points in 2018.
Abbott and O’Rourke have not met in person since the following day Uvalde school shootingwhen O’Rourke stood up to Abbott during the press conference. O’Rourke continued to attack Abbott for his response to the shooting, even holding a press conference before the debate with the families of the shooting victims.
In the hour-long debate, Abbott was asked about his comments at a news conference the day after the Uvalda shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. In those comments, he said the shooting “could have been worse” and praised the law enforcement response. Since, leaked video the shooting showed officers waiting in the hallway for 73 minutes before they could enter, and children could be heard screaming at times.
Message from a special legislative committee found that 376 officers responded to the shooting and the delay in confronting the gunman was the result of “systemic failures and extraordinarily poor decision-making.”
Abbott has since said he was “misled” by “everyone in that room who gave me information about what law enforcement did.”
“What this comment was based on was information from law enforcement about all the kids in all the other classes that they evacuated during the time that the shooter was on campus,” Abbott said. “But what they didn’t tell me at that point was that there were dozens, if not more, of other law enforcement agencies hanging out in the hallway for over an hour without engaging in the Columbine protocol and immediately went in. take out the shooter, which is what they should have done. And because they didn’t do it, there is a need to be held accountable, not only for Pete Arredondobut also for local law enforcement.”
O’Rourke, meanwhile, countered that Abbott must be held accountable and called on him to call a special session of the state legislature to pass tougher gun laws. Abbott said these laws would be challenged in court as unconstitutional.
O’Rourke made national headlines in 2019 when, while running for president, he said in a debate “hell yeah, we’ll take your AR-15He appeared to push back on those statements, saying on Friday that he was “in favor of making progress”.
“The families I was just with from Uvalde want us to take action,” O’Rourke said. “This is common ground. I’ve listened to Republicans and Democrats on this — we can agree on this: raising the age to 21, the red flag law, and universal background checks.”
Friday’s debate was hosted by Nexstar and took place at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, a key area for both candidates. There was no lack of audience. Given the location, it was not surprising that immigration was the first issue in the debate. Abbott has tried to keep immigration at the forefront of this race, as it gained national headlines for migrant buses to Washington, DC, New York and Chicago. While the bus service has drawn some criticism nationally — especially from Democrats — and UT/Texas Politics Project survey of September found that 80% of Texas Republicans and 52% of state voters overall support the program.
Abbott defended the program Friday night, saying New York City Mayor Eric Adams never reached out to his office, although Adams said he had. O’Rourke called the bus a “political stunt.”
O’Rourke criticized Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star”, which involved deploying the National Guard to patrol the border and cost the state $4 billion. Abbott touted the program, though he said ideally he would spend “zero dollars” on Operation Lone Star and blamed President Joe Biden’s immigration policy.
O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, did not shy away from discussing immigration, but tried to focus the race on abortion, gun laws and the 2021 blackout.
In 2021, before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Abbott signed a law that banned abortion after six weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. After the decision of the Supreme Court, the triggering law banning abortions came into force.
Abbott said the state would provide a Plan B for victims of rape or incest, which it doubled down on Friday night, saying Plan B should be “readily available” to them. But advocates said Texas Tribune earlier this month, Plan B is often not widely available, and one calls it “fairytale thinking.”
O’Rourke said Friday that the election is a referendum on “reproductive freedom” and told Texans that “if you care, you need to come out and vote.” 52% of likely voters said they would change Texas abortion laws to make the procedure more accessible. Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation/KVUE survey.
Asked if he had moved further to the right since taking office, Abbott said he had never personally supported abortion.
“Let’s look at the issues you’ve raised,” Abbott said. “And that is, first of all, as a Catholic, my wife and I have been pro-life our whole lives. So much so that it was even stronger when we adopted our daughter. The day she was born, I was the very first person who held her after she was born. And I saw firsthand the power adoption can have.”
Meanwhile, O’Rourke was asked about his recent failed attempts Senate in 2018 and president in 2020and whether he lacks a call to public service or personal ambition. O’Rourke responded that he was “honored” “to have the opportunity to serve others”.
Before the debate, the group told Nexstar that 40% supported Abbott, 27% supported O’Rourke and 33% were undecided. After the debate, 50% supported O’Rourke, 43% supported Abbott and 7% were undecided.
This is the only debate Abbott has agreed to, while O’Rourke has accepted several other invitations. Before the debate, O’Rourke blamed Abbott from destroying a live audience, even though Abbott’s campaign said Houston Chronicle that the terms of the debate were agreed in advance – without an audience.
Early voting in the state begins on October 24 September 2021, the GOP-led Legislature passed an election bill that limited the time for early voting and introduced new ID requirements for mail-in ballots. In particular, this last change led to a higher rejection rate for ballots in the March primary election, with more than 24,000 votes that remained uncounted.