No Democrat has yet announced plans to challenge Republican Greg Abbott in the 2022 gubernatorial race. Many consider Beto O’Rourke a likely contender, and a poll out this week from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation finds just a one-point margin between the two.
Jason Villalba is a former Dallas-area Republican state lawmaker and current CEO of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He told Texas Standard that Abbott’s shift toward the right has a lot to do with O’Rourke’s strength in the poll.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: You polled respondents on a potential Beto O’Rourke- Greg Abbott matchup. What were your findings?
Jason Villalba: We found that Beto’s quite competitive versus Abbott right now – 43-42[%]. So there’s only a one-point margin between the two. Now, seeing other polls around the state, that’s probably a little closer than some of the other polls. But it does suggest that after a very tough session where Abbott moved strikingly to the right, Beto is certainly within striking distance if he decides to run.
Governor Abbott has some challengers from within the Republican Party. What are Don Huffines or Allen West’s chances against Abbott in that primary race?
Interestingly, it’s almost a double-edged sword. The reason that Abbott and Beto are so close is because of the rightward shift in Abbott’s politics. He did that to stave off the challenges from West and Huffines, and he was successful. In the primary going forward in March, it looks like Abbott is the overwhelming favorite.
There’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of Texas-based actor Matthew McConaughey throwing his hat into the ring. Would he have any impact on the race from what you can tell?
Surprisingly, we found that McConaughey will not be a factor in this race. While he is popular among people in Texas, that popularity does not translate into political strength. His number head-to-head against Abbott came in at about nine percentage points. And when you add in Beto, he’s almost an insignificant factor. So I don’t think McConaughey, at least at this point in time, is a viable candidate for governor. Now if he gets into the race and spends tremendous amounts of money, maybe that changes.
As you stand back from this, what is your takeaway from a political perspective when you look at these numbers?
You look at Abbott’s strength in the past and it’s clear that the reason he was so strong was because he always appealed to Texans across the political spectrum, even though he’s a Republican. In his first race, he ran more as a centrist Republican. This session was just remarkable in how strident he was in his political move to the right. I think it was surprising for many people who had supported him before. In the age of Trumpism, I think a lot of politicians feel it necessary that they move towards that sort of abrasive, divisive style of politics. And certainly, Abbott did. While he might have shored up his strength among the grassroots Republican primary voters- because of that, he weakened himself in the general electorate. So I’m not sure that our poll says that Beto is very strong, but I do think it suggests that Abbott is weakened by his move to the right.