It’s hard to deny the impression that Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy for governor is picking up considerable steam. It’s not just a diminishing spread in poll numbers – which is notable because the distance between O’Rourke and incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott was in the double digits a few months ago.
O’Rourke’s campaign coffers are swelling, too, with a record haul for a Texas Democrat during the most recent reporting period. Abbott still has a bigger war chest, but the shift in dynamics in the gubernatorial race is notable. The bigger question is whether those dynamics have shifted enough to make a difference in political outcomes.
O’Rourke reported nearly $28 million campaign donations from late February from June of this year. That’s the most a Democratic candidate for state office has raised in a single reporting period, reports the Texas Tribune. As O’Rourke launches a nearly 50 day campaign tour across the state, we examine with Rice University political science professor Mark Jones just how much the gubernatorial race in Texas is heating up. Mark Jones is a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. He spoke with the Standard about the state of the race. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How much has Beto O’Rourke raised during this fundraising quarter and how does that compare to what Governor Abbott has on tap?
Mark Jones; Well, Beto raised $28 million, which as you mentioned, is a record for Democrats. That’s a little more than Abbott raised, $25 million. But Abbott has quite a bit more on hand than Beto does, especially if you include the $20 million he’s already spent reserving ads in the fall. He has roughly $66 million, if you include those $24 million for Beto. But the important thing for Beto is that he now has raised enough money to be on a relatively level playing field with Abbott, and that’s something the Abbott campaign was trying to avoid. That is, give Democrats hope and give national Democrats a reason to continue to support Beto O’Rourke with money.
How does it square with the current narrative that Democrats are staring into a shellacking coming up in November? That’s been the common narrative for most of the year, really. And now we’re seeing the Democratic challenger in the gubernatorial race apparently advancing and gaining momentum as well.
So a Democrat starts off at a natural 9 to 10 point disadvantage with a Republican in an election. So the glass half full for Beto is that he’s been able to have that. The glass half empty is still five points away. But nationally, given all of the trouble Democrats are having with a very unpopular Biden administration and record inflation Beto’s ability to get this close is relatively impressive. Something has happened to allow Beto to narrow the margin where if you looked at just national trends, we would think that the margin would be increasing and those could be things related to the Dobbs decision as well as to the Uvalde massacre.
What has changed? And it appears that this turnaround has happened in a rather short period of time, too. Right?
Right. And what we’ve seen in the polling is that while Abbott remains strong with Anglo men and Anglo women, he’s lost some support among Anglo women. And while he remains strong with Latino men, he’s lost quite a bit of support among Latino women. And that’s led to his margin dropping from eight or nine points down to five or six points.
Beto O’Rourke has launched something like a 50 day campaign tour, visiting places large and small across the state, sort of echoes of his campaign against Ted Cruz during that Senate run back in 2018. What kind of messaging does he need to get out there if he hopes to close that gap?
I think what he needs to highlight is that Republicans have been in control of Texas for essentially, the memory of most people. You have to go back to the nineties to find a time when Democrats actually had some power in Texas and that effectively asking people to say, do you think things are going in the right direction or the wrong direction?
What about Governor Abbott? I mean, he’s been dealing obviously with the legislative response to the Uvalde mass shooting, but also concerns about the electric grids. Sustainability is having a. Eager war chest. Enough to get him past the finish line here in November?
What it will allow him to do? Is bash Beto through November 8, as well as do everything possibly do the tie Beto O’Rourke and Texas Democrats to an unpopular Biden administration. We’re at a point, though, where it’s really tough to persuade people. So what he’ll really I think he’s doing more than anything else is trying to mobilize his base and demobilize the database. And that’s one of the reasons why these polls are important for Beto, as well as a concern for Abbott, because they give Democrats and Beto supporters hope. And that’s the last thing that Republicans want Democrats to have as we move into the fall. What they would prefer is a demoralized Democratic Party state, like back in 2014, where it was essentially they gave up before they even started.