Is the third time the charm for Beto? Teases plan to run for governor

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Will a third political run be successful or will Robert Francis (Beto) O’Rourke be a three-time loser? Axios has a story out that “political operatives” say Beto will announce later this year that he is running against Governor Greg Abbott in his bid for re-election.

Beto served as a congressman from El Paso from 2013 to 2019 in the House. He ran against Ted Cruz in 2018 and failed to win. Hollywood and liberal elites on both coasts got all excited about Beto’s challenge to Cruz and the money poured into his campaign. Beto came close, especially for a Democrat in Texas, but failed to beat Cruz for his Senate seat. Democrats encouraged Beto to fail up and run in the Democrat primary for president in 2020 and he was happy to oblige. Despite the support of people like Oprah and publications like Vanity Fair, Beto quickly flamed out on the campaign trail. He returned to El Paso and since then has devoted his time to creating a PAC that fundraises for Democrats in Texas in their hopes of turning Texas blue. He’s also been an adjunct college professor indoctrinating the upcoming generation of voters.

It was unclear if Beto or Julian Castro would run against Abbott this cycle. Like Beto, Castro is from El Paso and ran for the Democrat nomination for president in 2020. Castro is the former mayor of San Antonio [see update] and was a member of Obama’s cabinet. There were rumors he would like to run for governor but wouldn’t if Beto does. I guess the two of them worked it out. We’ll see if Beto pulls the trigger and announces as time goes on.

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 Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who is up for re-election next year. And he has begun talking to supporters about having them join his campaign staff. A decision could be made in the coming weeks, the three people said, possibly as soon as October.

Democrats in Texas have been urging Mr. O’Rourke to get into the race for governor almost from the moment he dropped out of the 2020 race for president, a quixotic effort that stumbled early and failed to gain traction amid a crowded primary field.

But despite his troubles on the national stage, Mr. O’Rourke has maintained a deep wellspring of support in Texas, where many Democrats still display the black-and-white Beto signs from the 2018 campaign on their lawns and on their cars.

Here’s the thing – Abbott’s approval ratings are down a bit but it’s nothing he can’t improve on, especially since there is plenty of time between now and the 2022 election. Abbott’s popularity took a hit during the pandemic because he locked down the state during the early days but he re-opened the state early, too, at least compared to other states. Abbott has been aggressively working to keep Texas free of mandates and open for business. Governor Abbott is in the news on a daily basis as he works to quell the Biden border crisis. Abbott is a thorn in the side of Biden, who regularly calls him out, and that revs up the Texas GOP base. There is no indication right now that Abbott will lose his re-election race.

What would Beto run on? He’s a gun-grabber and that doesn’t play well in Texas. Hey, whatever happened to Biden’s campaign pledge to bring on Beto to attack the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans. Biden loved Beto’s talk of going door-to-door to confiscate guns from legal gun owners. Will Beto try to run on abortion on demand? That plays well with Democrat women and some Independents but not so much with other Texans. They may agree that the fetal heartbeat law is too stringent using six weeks as the cut-off but abortion on demand is still a losing issue in Texas. The Democrats will have to focus on Abbott’s performance during the pandemic. They will have to make the case that it would have been better to leave the state in shutdown mode.

Actor Matthew McConaughey has toyed with the idea of running for governor but it is unclear how serious he is. I continue to think he finds the idea intriguing but won’t actually run. His mother has been very active in Republican politics for many years in Texas so he’s politically astute, especially on Texas politics. He would likely run as an Independent. I don’t know that Texans are ready for Governor McConaughey but he is polling above both Abbott and Beto right now.

A new Dallas Morning News poll has McConaughey ahead of both Abbott and Beto. Respondents said they liked his way of speaking honestly and “telling it like it is”, which is how we got Trump as president, right? Never say never in politics.

A new poll for the Dallas Morning News shows that O’Rourke has narrowed the gap with Abbott in a hypothetical context. Thirty-seven percent of respondents, across all political parties, said they would vote for O’Rourke, while 42 percent said they would vote for Abbott, 63, and 21 percent said they would vote for someone else.

In July, Abbott had a 12 percent lead over O’Rourke, with 45 percent likely to vote for him and 33 percent likely to vote for O’Rourke, with 22 percent saying they would vote for someone else.

But the Dallas Morning News poll suggests McConaughey may have a better shot at winning than O’Rourke. The poll found that 44 percent of the respondents would vote for the Dallas Buyers’ Club and True Detective actor if he went head-to-head with Abbott, who only gets 35 percent of the vote in that scenario.

McConaughey lives in the Austin area and teaches at UT-Austin.

Another interesting tidbit in the latest poll from the Dallas Morning News is that Abbott’s approval rating for handling the Biden border crisis is higher than Biden’s approval rating in Texas. Democrats have been losing support in border cities and towns precisely because of the open border issue. Beto would not be wise to run on keeping Biden’s policies in place.

The political atmosphere will be a challenge for Beto. It is expected that Republicans will have a very good mid-term election cycle. The chairman of the Texas Democrat Party is excited that Beto is talking about entering the race, though. They need someone with strong name recognition. During the 2018 campaign, Beto became almost a cult-like figure for Texas Democrats, especially among college-age voters and twenty-somethings. We’ll see if he can capture that excitement again. If not, there’s always the possibility he can run for mayor in El Paso.

Update: Castro was the mayor of San Antonio, not El Paso. Our apologies for the error.