Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is up for re-election in 2022. The usual speculation has begun on who will and will not challenge him from both sides of the aisle. The Democrats have been quiet as to who is planning to jump into the race. Abbott has one well-known (in Texas politics) Republican opponent so far. Will he draw an Independent challenger? How about actor Matthew McConaughey?
Liberal journalists and Democrats are trying hard to make a McConaughey candidacy a thing, that’s for sure. Politico has a piece out today to keep the pot stirred. It is reporting that McConaughey may not be willing to confirm that he is planning a run for governor but he is talking to deep-pocketed Texans about the possibility. It makes for fun speculation on a Sunday when the rest of the news cycle is going to hell in a handbasket so let’s game this out a little bit.
First, Matthew has to decide if he’ll run as an Independent or as a Republican or a Democrat. In recent interviews, McConaughey is all about independent thoughts, not beholden to any particular ideology. His mother is a longtime Republican active in the party. Matthew, however, has not voted in a primary since 2012. He hasn’t contributed financially to any candidate. If he runs as an Independent (which my money would be on) he’ll take votes from both parties and Abbott will be re-elected.
I think Abbott will be re-elected no matter who runs against him, just to be clear. He’s been dinged up during the pandemic and the big freeze which left Texans without electricity for days but he’s hanging in there. By the time the election rolls around, he’ll win. He’s been pro-active during the border crisis and Texas is one of the leaders in re-opening at 100%, two issues at the top of the concerns of Texans. Voters will remember that.
Former state Sen. Don Huffines, a Republican, is running against Abbott from the right – patterning himself in Trump-like style. Abbott, though, had a good relationship with Trump, visiting the White House frequently, especially during Trump’s reelection campaign days. I imagine Abbott would get Trump’s endorsement in a primary race if he asks for it. There’s talk that maybe Abbott will be challenged by Republican Party of Texas chairman Allen West or Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. Neither man has moved to enter the race.
Speculation of a McConaughey candidacy brings flashbacks of Kinky Friedman. Friedman was the Ross Perot of the 2006 gubernatorial race in Texas. Paul Begala is still traumatized about that race. Texas hasn’t had a Democrat governor since then.
“The problem with running as an independent is we have seen this movie before,” said longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala, pointing to Gov. Rick Perry’s 2006 win.
Back then, quirky singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman and former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn ran as independents, and while they finished behind Perry and Democratic candidate Chris Bell, they still managed to pull in 12 and 18 percent of the vote, respectively — votes Democrats say were pulled away from Bell. A Democrat has not been governor of Texas since Ann Richards, 26 years ago.
“Texas doesn’t need a third party, Matthew! We need a second party,” Begala said.
McConaughey has expressed some interest in running for office but he hasn’t expressed political opinions – anything to get in the way of promoting his new book. He’s not stupid. He’s enjoying the publicity and book sales for now.
Will Beto O’Rourke or Julian Castro run against Abbott on the Democrat side? They are the two who usually come to the forefront when Democrats speak about the race in 2022. Democrats don’t have a deep bench. The chairman of the Texas Democrat Party “welcomes him” in the race but also acknowledges it would be bad news for Democrats.
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said that if McConaughey chose to run on their ticket, he would “welcome him.”
“He’s young, good-looking, smart and has a little wildness — but this is Texas. We like that stuff,” Hinojosa said. “He has not reached out to the party that I know of. It’s absolutely up in the air.”
But, Hinojosa cautioned, “If he wants to run as an independent, he’d be a spoiler and guarantee Abbott gets elected.”
The executive editor of Texas Monthly, a liberal publication, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times published last Sunday. She, too, referenced Kinky Friedman and wonders what McConaughey has been smoking. (I think we know the answer to that question.) She writes that he’s not really in one political camp or the other.
Mr. McConaughey’s politics are a bit of a mystery, though we can assume that marijuana legalization might get a boost if he was in charge. He’s been fairly vocal about gun control without going nuclear like Beto O’Rourke. But a recent review of Mr. McConaughey’s voting record by The Texas Tribune revealed he’s been a no-show for primary races since 2012.
Of the tactics on both sides of the politician spectrum he has said that “it curdles my stomach, man — I have not appreciated it.” Would Mr. McConaughey run as a Democrat or a Republican? That’s as much a mystery as the meaning of his soliloquy at the end of “True Detective.”
For now, the celebrity who might run for Texas governor polls high. It’s a fun topic over a cocktail with other political observers. Will it amount to anything when filing deadlines approach? Probably not. He has a nice life in Austin with his wife and three children. Maybe he’ll run to push a pet political issue or two. We have no way of knowing at this point because he isn’t willing to say. With his level of name recognition, he doesn’t have to do that any time soon.