Texas Dems: We're feeling pretty upbeat about Beto

AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

Really? It’s tough to see why or how, but hope springs eternal in the progressive breast. The Hill reports that Texas Democrats think that they have a real shot at beating Greg Abbott, arguing that Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke is a closer — and he’s getting positioned for the home stretch:

Democrats are feeling cautiously optimistic about flipping the Texas governor’s mansion, even as they acknowledge a strong sense of déjà vu following past elections in which the state eluded them despite seemingly favorable tailwinds.

Many observers had written off the race between Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, pointing to the incumbent governor’s generally high favorability and the Lone Star State’s deep-red hue.

But the recent shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde sparked a renewed debate over gun control and raised pressure on state officials, including Abbott. And polls conducted in the shooting’s aftermath suggest a surprisingly close race.

It’s getting a bit closer, but it’s not that close. The current RCP aggregate puts Abbott up six points over Beto. The closest survey results in the past two months have Abbott up five. There has not been a single poll showing Beto with a lead at any time in RCP’s aggregated surveys of this race, in fact. The post-Uvalde polls look a lot like the pre-Uvalde polls, in fact, except for one outlier from the University of Texas in April that had Abbott up eleven points, only to drop to +6 two months later.

Democrats counter all of the polls to argue that Beto was a comeback kid in 2018. That’s true, but

A number of polls show a tightening race in recent weeks. One, from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs released earlier this month, showed Abbott leading O’Rourke 48 percent to 43 percent, while a Quinnipiac University poll released last month also found Abbott leading O’Rourke by the same margin. It’s an improvement from late last year when a Quinnipiac poll showed Abbott leading O’Rourke by 17 points.

These numbers may look familiar to O’Rourke and Democrats. A Quinnipiac University poll released in August 2018 showed O’Rourke trailing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by 6 points. And during that same period, the RealClearPolitics polling average had Cruz leading O’Rourke by 6.5 points, according to Vox.

Democrats will also remember that the year’s Senate race was the closest in Texas since 1978 — but O’Rourke ended up losing by just over 2 points. The final RealClearPolitics polling average before the election showed Cruz leading by an average of 2.6 points.

… but 2018’s midterm election was also a mini-blue wave election, too. Beto got lifted up by Democrat enthusiasm and Republican ennui, not to mention around $38 million in outside-Texas donations, only to come up short anyway. At that time, Beto was not terribly well known inside or outside Texas, too. Since then, O’Rourke ran that nationalized Texas Senate race and then ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019-20.

The 2022 midterm election turnout model looks much different, to put it mildly. Again, people seem to have trouble grasping the radically different context of an election in an inflationary/recessionary wave and the elections that took place in 2018 or even 2020. The economy will be front and center nationwide, including in Texas, and here in Texas the Biden border crisis will likely occupy whatever priorities are left over outside of the economy. Even in normal times, running as a gun-control advocate for statewide office in Texas would be folly, but Democrats are dreaming if they think gun-grabbing is going to be a game-changer in this cycle.

The only caveat to keep in mind is that Abbott’s not terribly popular in Texas. He’s not exactly unpopular either, but these poll numbers are weak for an incumbent in a favorable state like Texas is to Republicans. I wouldn’t call this a slam dunk, but this spin from Democrats looks a lot like whistling past the graveyard.