Guns. Abortion.. Texas’ closely-watched gubernatorial election entered the home run Friday night with the first — and perhaps only — debate between incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.
Even though O’Rourke behind Abbott by approximately 7 points according to latest surveys, this could be the closest Texas governor’s election in years. Abbott won by over 20 points in 2014 and by almost 15 points in 2018.
Since the day following the Uvalde school shooting, when O’Rourke addressed Abbott at a press conference, the two have not squared off in person. O’Rourke has continued to criticize Abbott for his response to the shooting, including holding a press conference with shooting victims’ relatives prior to the debate.
During the hour-long debate, Abbott was questioned about his remarks at that press conference the day after the Uvalde shooting, which claimed the lives of 19 pupils and 2 teachers. In his remarks, he stated that the incident “could have been worse” and commended the actions of law officers. Since then, a leaked video of the incident has revealed that officers waited 73 minutes in the corridor before entering, during which time children’s screams could be heard.
The delay in addressing the gunman was the consequence of “systemic flaws and egregiously poor decision making,” according to a report from a special legislative committee.
Beto O’Rourke, Greg Abbott AP Photographers: LM Otero and Eric Gay
Abbott has now stated that he was “misled” by “everyone in that room” who informed him of what law enforcement conducted.
Abbott stated that his statement was based on information provided by law enforcement on the students evacuated from classrooms during the time the shooter was on campus. “What they did not tell me at the time was that hundreds, if not more, of other police officers were waiting in the corridor for almost an hour without following the Columbine protocol and removing the gunman immediately, as they were supposed to. And because they failed to do so, responsibility is required, not only for Pete Arredondo but also for the local law enforcement.”
O’Rourke has argued that Abbott must be held accountable and has demanded that he summon a special session of the state legislature to establish stronger gun legislation. Abbott has stated that these legislation would be challenged as unlawful in court.
O’Rourke made national headlines in 2019 when, while campaigning for president, he stated at a debate, “hell yes, we’ll take your AR-15s.” He appeared to retract these views, and on Friday he stated that he was “in favor of ensuring that we make progress.”
O’Rourke remarked, “Those Uvalde families I was recently with want us to do action.” “This is the point of agreement. I’ve listened to both Republicans and Democrats on this issue, and we can agree on the following: a 21-year-old minimum age requirement, a red flag statute, and a universal background check.”
The Nexstar-hosted debate on Friday took place at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, a vital location for both candidates. There was nobody present. It was hardly surprise, given the location, that immigration was the first topic of discussion during the debate. Abbott has attempted to keep immigration at the forefront of this election by transporting migrants to Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago. While busing has been criticized nationwide, particularly by Democrats, a September poll by the UT/Texas Politics Project indicated that 80% of Texas Republicans and 52% of all state voters supported the policy.
Abbott defended the show on Friday night and stated that New York City Mayor Eric Adams never contacted his office, despite Adams’ claim to the contrary. O’Rourke referred to the busing as a “political ploy.”
O’Rourke criticized Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” which has cost the state $4 billion and entailed the deployment of the National Guard to guard the border. Abbott promoted the program, while stating that he would rather Texas spend “zero dollars” on Operation Lone Star and blaming the immigration policy of President Joe Biden.
El Paso native O’Rourke has not shied away from tackling immigration, but he has attempted to center his campaign on abortion, gun regulations, and the 2021 blackout.
Abbott passed a measure prohibiting abortions after six weeks in 2021, with no exceptions for rape or incest, before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, a legislation prohibiting abortion went into effect.
Abbott has stated that the state will offer Plan B to victims of rape or incest. On Friday night, he reiterated this position, stating that Plan B should be “readily available” for these victims. Advocates, meanwhile, told the Texas Tribune earlier this month that Plan B is frequently unavailable, with one referring to this as “fantasy thinking.”
O’Rourke stated on Friday that this race is a referendum on “reproductive freedom” and urged Texans to vote if they care about the issue. A Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation/KVUE poll found that 52% of likely voters would modify the state’s abortion regulations in order to make the procedure more accessible.
When questioned if he has become more conservative since becoming president, Abbott stated that he has never personally supported abortion.
“Let’s examine the challenges you’ve raised,” Abbott remarked. “As Catholics, my wife and I have been pro-life for the entirety of our lives. In fact, it grew much stronger once we adopted our daughter. I was the first person to hold her after she was born on the day she was born. And I have personally witnessed the impact adoption can have.”
In the meantime, O’Rourke was questioned regarding his unsuccessful campaigns for the Senate in 2018 and the presidency in 2020, and whether he is running out of motivation for public service or personal ambition. O’Rourke responded that it is a “privilege” to have the chance to help others.
A focus group informed Nexstar before to the debate that 40% supported Abbott, 27% supported O’Rourke, and 33% were undecided. 50% supported O’Rourke, 43% supported Abbott, and 7% were uncertain after the debate.
This is the sole debate to which Abbott has agreed, but O’Rourke has accepted numerous others. Prior to the debate, O’Rourke accused Abbott of eliminating the live audience, while Abbott’s team notified the Houston Chronicle that the debate conditions — without an audience – had been agreed upon previously.
On October 24, the state begins early voting. In September 2021, a legislature led by Republicans approved an election measure that reduced early voting hours and imposed stricter identification requirements for mail-in votes. More than 24,000 votes went uncounted in the March primary elections as a result of this most recent modification.