Texas Gov. Greg Abbott now has an official Republican challenger in the 2022 gubernatorial primary. Don Huffines is a Dallas-area businessman who served in the Texas Senate from 2015 to 2019 before he was ousted by a Democratic challenger. Huffines plans to run to Abbott’s right. He’s already accused the state’s leadership of not being tough enough on the border, election security or property taxes. It’s a contest that underscores the divisions in the Texas GOP. No Democrats have yet jumped into the race.
Huffines has previously advocated libertarian-leaning policy solutions. But Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, tells Texas Standard that in order to appeal to Republicans in 2022, Huffines will need to focus on issues that are more associated with former President Donald Trump’s populist conservatism.
“Issues that excite members of the party’s right wing include immigration and election integrity, and pretty much anything that bashes the Biden administration,” Jones said. “So if you’re going to run to Abbott’s right, that’s the way to do it.”
Jones says Abbott is a formidable opponent, with $40 million in campaign cash in the bank. Huffines could force Abbott to address the issues that appeal to the GOP’s right wing. That could, in turn, help Democrats paint Republicans as too extreme. And even if he wins in 2022, it could make it harder for Abbott should he decide to run for president in 2024.
But the current leading candidate on the Democratic side, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, was bloodied by his unsuccessful presidential run in which he moved from the center to the left. Jones says a candidate with a “less polarizing personality” might have the best chance for success.
On Monday, Trump endorsed Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Jones says the endorsement sends a signal, since Trump did not also endorse Abbott. Patrick currently faces no opposition in his reelection bid.