Trump endorses in Texas gubernatorial race as Abbott picks up a serious primary challenger

(Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool)

Former President Trump weighed in on the Texas gubernatorial race Tuesday. Trump endorsed Governor Greg Abbott for re-election. Trump and Abbott forged a good working relationship during the Trump administration so this announcement is not particularly surprising.

Trump’s statement touts Abbott’s work in securing the border and his defense of the Second Amendment. Both of those subjects are top priorities in Texas Republican primaries.

Greg Abbott is a fighter and a Great Governor for the incredible people of Texas. No Governor has done more to secure the Border and keep our communities safe than Governor Abbott. Greg is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and has made Texas a Second Amendment Sanctuary State. Texas has become a job-creating machine, and our partnership helped restore America’s economic power and success. Greg is also very tough on crime, fully supports the brave men and women of Law Enforcement, and is all in on Election Integrity. Governor Greg Abbott will continue to be a great leader for the Lone Star State, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement for re-election. He will never let you down!

What is a little surprising is that Abbott is receiving a big endorsement so early in the campaign. The date for the primary election is March 1, 2022, with a filing deadline for candidates on December 13. What Abbott is doing here is securing his spot in the race early on. He has one strong challenger already in the Republican primary race – former state Senator Don Huffines. He is running to the right of Abbott, claiming that the governor has not been conservative enough in office. Huffines has been a vocal critic of Abbott’s handling of the pandemic in Texas over the last year.

Huffines is a 63-year-old Dallas real estate developer who, along with this brother co-founded Huffines Communities. He served in the Texas Senate from 2015 to 2019. He was defeated in his bid for re-election by the Democrat candidate, though he had Abbott’s endorsement in that race. Now Huffines says that he is the Trump supporter in the race.

Huffines, meanwhile, issued a statement that played up his family’s support for Trump since 2016 and claimed he remains the “clear Trump candidate in the Texas governor’s race.”

“Texas Primary voters and Trump supporters will decide for themselves who will lead our state forward, and who has failed Texans repeatedly on issues that matter the most,” Huffines said.

Abbott’s statement thanks Trump for the endorsement and plays up their history of working together for Texas.

Trump’s endorsement comes as a good distraction from the failures of the Texas state Republicans, especially in the House, to move a big priority item to Abbott’s desk – election integrity reform. It will pass in a special session (not yet scheduled) but it gives Huffines an opportunity to ding Abbott for a lack of leadership. Trump, in his statement, noted that Abbott is “all in on Election Integrity.”

An early endorsement from Trump also squashes any other Republicans who were toying with the idea of running for governor. Two that have been mentioned are Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, former congressman (from Florida) Allen West.

Huffines is a serious challenger for Abbott, his first serious challenger in twenty years of Texas politics. In past elections, Abbott has faced GOP challengers but they didn’t have Abbott’s name recognition and were underfunded. In his last two races, Abbott won with 90 percent of Republican votes. This race will be for his third term as governor.

Before that, Abbott, 63, won three terms as state attorney general but never once had a primary challenge. And even before that, he won two Texas Supreme Court races without any GOP opposition.

Beating Abbott in a primary certainly won’t be easy. Not only does Abbott have about $38 million in a campaign fund called Texans for Greg Abbott, but he also sports a 77 percent approval rating with Republican voters, according to the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

You get the picture.

The real challenge for Abbott will be in the general election. He is likely to face Beto O’Rourke or maybe Julian Castro on the Democrat side. Also a possibility is Matthew McConaughey running as an Independent. As crazy as that sounds, McConaughy polls well above Abbott (between 12 and 15 points) and a Democrat candidate. Hey, actress Kate Hudson says he has “a real chance.” No, she doesn’t live in or vote in Texas but she’s supportive of her friend. You can see the Hollywood money pouring in, right? They would do it just to screw with Texas. Hollywood and national Democrats have already proven that they are all-in in turning Texas blue so this will be a hot race, with or without McConaughey.

Abbott will have election reform legislation to sign after the first special session. In the fall, a second special session will be called to deal with redistricting.