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Why Beto O’Rourke announced he’s running for Texas governor

Beto is back. But are his chances any better?

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks in Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 1, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks to supporters before the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 1, 2019. O’Rourke announced Monday he’s running for Texas governor.
Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced Monday he’s running for Texas governor.

The Democrat, who served in the U.S. House from 2013 to 2019, cited the Texas power grid failure in February as the reason he was running, saying in a social media announcement video that it was “a symptom of a much larger problem that we have in Texas right now.”

O’Rourke said those in power in the state were preventing Texas from making progress on “things that most of us actually agree on, like expanding Medicaid, or legalizing marijuana.”

“Instead they’re focusing on the kind of extremist policies around abortion or permitless carry or even in our schools that really only divide us and keep us apart and stop us from working together on the truly big things that we want to achieve for one another,” he said.

O’Rourke ran as a progressive during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. And prior to dropping out in November 2019, O’Rourke made headlines both for saying he would end the tax-exemption for religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage and for proposing a mandatory assault weapon buyback program. In his gubernatorial announcement, though, he seemed to pitch himself as a more moderate choice relative to Texas Republicans.

O’Rourke is running to unseat two-term Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who also faces primary challengers, including former Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines.

Abbott was reelected in 2018 with 55.8% of the vote, but he’s seen his approval rating slip below his disapproval rating this year. His popularity with independents cratered following the power grid failure, and it’s only gotten worse since, according to UT Austin polling.

Abbott has moved sharply to the right ahead of next year’s primaries, supporting measures like a COVID-19 vaccine mandate ban and a restrictive abortion ban, and leading an effort along with Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to address Republican criticism of the Biden administration’s border policy.

Abbott responded to O’Rourke’s announcement by tweeting that the Democrat wants to defund the police and “impose socialism.”

“Bring it,” Abbott wrote.

As of July, Abbott’s campaign had raised a formidable $55 million. A University of Texas-Texas Tribune poll conducted in October about a potential Abbott-O’Rourke matchup found Abbott would win with 46% of the vote if the election were held today, ahead of O’Rourke at 37%. The poll found 17% said they didn’t know who they would vote for or they would vote for someone else.

Actor Matthew McConaughey has said he’s considered possibly running for Texas governor. Earlier this month, he said he hadn’t made up his mind yet but he believed the U.S. and Texas need “to be aggressively centric now.”

O’Rourke’s only other statewide race in Texas came in 2018, when he ran for U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and lost by 2.6%. It was the closest a Texas Democrat has come to beating a Republican incumbent U.S. senator in 40 years, according to the Texas Tribune.