The former congressman announced he’ll run for Texas governor in 2022.
Under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas has become perhaps the single most oppressive state in the entire country. His term in office has seen the open-armed embrace of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, the immigrant community, pregnant people, voters, and anyone who doesn’t want to get shot to death. The degree to which Abbott has turned Texas into a petri dish teeming with conservative policy bacterium would, in anything resembling a sane world, offer Democrats ample electoral fodder ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. And perhaps it might, although preliminary evidence doesn’t look too promising for the Dems. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine someone more awkwardly suited to deliver that message than former Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
On Monday, O’Rourke announced his candidacy to run for Texas governor in 2022, with a decidedly non-bombastic campaign video that visually called to mind his much mocked Vanity Fair cover story ahead of the 2020 election. In his announcement, however, O’Rourke stressed a commitment to a slate of meat-and-potatoes issues he hopes will differentiate himself from Abbott and the Texas GOP’s slide into MAGA extremism, including fixing Texas’s failing electrical grid, attracting jobs, and legalizing marijuana.
In an interview with the Associated Press, O’Rourke made clear that he sees electoral opportunity to cash in on the Democrats’ 2020 progress in the state, saying, “I do believe, very strongly, from listening to people in this state that they’re very unhappy with the direction that Greg Abbott has taken Texas.”
And he may be right: The Texas Political Project at the University of Texas at Austin has put Abbott’s approval levels underwater since this spring, while the state’s newly enacted anti-reproductive health care legislation that Abbott championed has energized Democrats.
But in this instance, the disparity between the message and the messenger seems starker than ever. Consider that O’Rourke lost his last run for statewide office in 2018, when he unsuccessfully tried to topple Sen. Ted Cruz. In fact, the only elections O’Rourke has actually won are to represent Texas’s 16th District — a longtime Democratic stronghold — in Congress. That O’Rourke couldn’t defeat Ted Cruz, one of the most wildly unpopular lawmakers in the country today, doesn’t bode well for a 2022 match up against Abbott.
Nevertheless, from his campaign announcement video, it’s clear Beto thinks this time things are different enough to matter. Almost immediately in the video, O’Rourke cites this past February’s catastrophic winter storm that left millions in Texas without power, and lashes out at the people who were “abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them” — a not-so-subtle dig at Cruz’s decision to flee the state he represents at the time to catch some rays in sunny Cancun, Mexico.
But much as he’d like to tar all Texas Republicans together with a single brush, the fact remains that O’Rourke isn’t running against Cruz this race. He’s running against an independently wealthy political pro who has positioned himself at the forefront of the surging wave of conservative authoritarianism in this country — not to mention the deeply unsettling possibility of a three-way race between O’Rourke, Abbott, and car-spokesman Matthew McConaughey. If that does happen, O’Rourke is going to have to not only make the obvious case that Greg Abbott is bad, but also justify why he, Beto, is not only good, but better than he’s been in the past. That would be an uphill battle even during an election cycle where Democrats aren’t already operating in a crouch.
But O’Rourke wants the world to see him as an optimist. He wants us to think he can really do this. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s right.