Are There Enough Swing Voters In Texas To Replace Abbott With Beto?
Although he could change his mind and decide to not run, I'm hearing from very reliable sources that Beto has made up his mind to jump into the Texas gubernatorial race next year. The first time he ran statewide, in 2018 against Ted Cruz, it was Texas' closest Senate race since 1978 (when Beto was 6 years old). Incumbent Ted Cruz was reelected 4,260,553 (50.9%) to 4,045,632 (48.3%), the best any Democrat had done in a statewide Texas race since Ann Richards defeated Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox for governor in 1990. Beto won 32 counties and flipped Williamson, Tarrant, Jefferson, Nueces, Brewster and Hays counties, all of which had been won by Trump 2 years earlier. He also managed to win gerrymandered Republican congressional districts represented by Michael McCaul, Will Hurd and Kenny Marchant-- helping persuade Hurd and Marchant to retire.
This wasn't some kind of Democratic resurgence. On the same day, Texas governor Greg Abbott was reelected 4,656,196 (55.8%) to Democrat Lupe Valdez's 3,546,615 (42.5%). Beto won half a million votes more than Valdez-- and 12 more counties than she did. Turnout for Beto helped propel 2 mediocre Democratic candidates into victories against longtime Republican incumbents-- Lizzie Fletcher vs John Culberson and Collin Allred vs Pete Sessions. It's no wonder Texas Democrats are begging him to run against the increasingly unpopular Abbott.
This morning Hill reporter Niall Stanage wondered aloud if Beto could beat Abbott. Abbott is unpopular on several fronts-- his catastrophic handling of the pandemic, the massive failure of the Texas power grid and his anti-Choice legislation (including more of that than we were originally aware of).
A poll conducted last month by the University of Texas-Texas Politics Project found Abbott with the worst approval ratings in the six years that the survey has been conducted.
Fifty percent of Texans in the poll disapproved of Abbott’s performance, while just 41 percent approved. Democrats and Republicans split along predictable lines, but 52 percent of independents gave Abbott the thumbs-down and just 30 percent approved.
Another poll, released on Sunday from the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, found that Abbott’s approval rating had fallen to 45 percent, from a high of 59 percent in March 2020.
...“This remains a state in the midst of becoming more competitive-- but in stops and starts, and certainly that is not happening as quickly or to the extent that Democrats had been promising for years,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
Looking ahead to next year’s gubernatorial race, Henson cited the relative organizational weakness of the Texas Democratic Party, set against its GOP counterpart.
“The structural context is not very good for the Democrats, despite Abbott being in a weaker position,” he said.
There is also the question of whether O’Rourke’s presidential bid cost him more than just time and money.
During his 2020 quest, he staked out more emphatically progressive positions than he had during his 2018 run against Cruz. Most famously, when asked during a September 2019 Democratic debate about his proposed mandatory buy-back of guns, O’Rourke replied, “Hell, yes. We’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
That rhetoric delights the Democratic grassroots, but how it would play in a statewide Texas race is a lot more questionable.
Abbott is aggressively anti-mandate and Texans are dying because of it. Yesterday Texas had the most new cases again (7,324) and the most new deaths. Although the state is 50% fully vaccinated, that's because of Texans who ignore Abbott in the state's bluest counties. In the Abbott/Trump counties, vaccination rates are dragging the state down. These are the 20 counties that gave Trump his highest percentage of votes in 2020-- along with their current vaccination rates:
Roberts Co.- Trump 96.2% (26% fully vaccinated)
King Co.- Trump 95.0% (14% fully vaccinated)
Borden Co.- Trump 95.4% (28% fully vaccinated)
Motley Co.- Trump 92.6% (22% fully vaccinated)
Glasscock Co.- Trump 93.6% (36% fully vaccinated)
Armstrong Co.- Trump 93.1% (32% fully vaccinated)
Wheeler Co.- Trump 92.4% (34% fully vaccinated)
Sterling Co.- Trump 91.4% (32% fully vaccinated)
Shackelford Co.- Trump 91.1% (31% fully vaccinated)
Loving Co.- Trump 90.9% (18% fully vaccinated)
Oldham Co.- Trump 90.9% (28% fully vaccinated)
Jack Co.- Trump 90.4% (32% fully vaccinated)
Hansford Co.- Trump 90.3% (37% fully vaccinated)
Throckmorton Co.- Trump 90.2% (37% fully vaccinated)
Hartley Co.- Trump 90.0% (40% fully vaccinated)
Archer Co.- Trump 89.7% (41% fully vaccinated)
Gaines Co.- Trump 89.3% (17% fully vaccinated)
Sherman Co.- Trump 89.3% (27% fully vaccinated)
Lipscomb Co.- Trump 89.1% (26% fully vaccinated)
Stephens Co.- Trump 89.1% (30% fully vaccinated)
These are the dozen counties that voted most heavily for Beto two years before along with their current vaccination rates. The difference between the Trump counties and the Beto counties is huge-- and no coincidence:
Zavala Co.- Beto 79.2% (44% fully vaccinated)
Starr Co.- Beto 76.7% (66% fully vaccinated)
El Paso Co.- Beto 74.4% (62% fully vaccinated)
Travis Co.- Beto 74.3% (60% fully vaccinated)
Presidio Co.- Beto 73.2% (78% fully vaccinated)
Maverick Co.- Beto 71.7% (62% fully vaccinated)
Jim Hogg Co.- Beto 71.7% (49% fully vaccinated)
Brooks Co.- Beto 71.5% (55% fully vaccinated)
Webb Co.- Beto 71.2% (68% fully vaccinated)
Dimmit Co.- Beto 70.6% (56% fully vaccinated)
Hidalgo Co.- Beto 68.8% (61% fully vaccinated)
Duval Co.- Beto 67.2% (53% fully vaccinated)
As of yesterday, 62,559 Texans had died from COVID and even if they were all Republican voters-- which they certainly weren't-- that wouldn't be enough to flip the state blue. Abbott's behavior, though, might. There are a lot of Republicans in Texas who love what Abbott is doing, but not enough of them to win him another term. Republican politicians running statewide need at least some independents and swing voters, exactly who Abbott's agenda is increasingly turning off.