After the recent turmoil, the race for the governor of Texas is heating up

Sugar Land, Texas – One of the deadliest school shootings in US history. The revival of the abortion ban in the 1920s. The worst migrant deaths in the country in recent memory. And the electrical grid, which broke down during the bitter cold, is now strained under scorching heat.

The constant succession of deaths and hardships that Texans have faced over the past two months has strained them into the state’s direction, hurting Governor Greg Abbott and making the race for governor perhaps the most competitive since Democrats took office in the 1990s.

Opinion polls have shown a tight, single-digit rivalry between Mr Abbott, the two-term incumbent, and his Democratic challenger everywhere, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Mr. O’Rourke is now raising more money from Mr Abbott’s campaign – $27.6 million to $24.9 million in the last deposit – in a race likely to be among the most expensive of 2022.

Suddenly, improbably, and perhaps unwisely, Texas Democrats dared again to think — as they have in so many recent election years — this year might be the year.

“It seems that some of the worst things that are happening in this country have their roots in Texas,” said James Tallarico, a Democratic state representative from north Austin. “We are seeing a renewed fighting spirit.”

Meanwhile, the winds of nationalist discontent are blowing hard in the other direction, against Democrats. Texans, like many Americans, have felt the pressure of rising inflation and have a low opinion of President Biden. Unlike four years ago, when Mr. O’Rourke defied Senator Ted Cruz and nearly won during the midterm referendum on President Donald J. Trump that lifted the Democrats, now it is Republicans who are motivated by hostility toward the White House and poised for gains. in state races.

But in recent weeks, there has been a palpable shift in Texas, as recorded in numerous public opinion and some internal campaign surveys, after the Ovaldi school shooting that killed 19 children and teachers and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that Reinforced A 1925 law bans all abortions Except when a woman’s life is in danger.

“Dobbs on the sidelines hurt Republicans in Texas. Ovaldi on the sidelines hurt Republicans in Texas. The network hurt Texas Republicans,” said Mark B. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University who helped conduct a recent poll. “Biden and inflation have been a saving grace.” .”

And gun control was a top concern among another group that Republicans were fighting hard to win over Democrats: Hispanic women.

A separate survey conducted by the University of Texas at Austin and published this month showed 59 percent of respondents believed Texas was on the “wrong track,” The highest number in over a decade from asking this question. Another, from Quinnipiac University, found Mr. O’Rourke Within 5 percentage points conservative.

As new polls show Mr. O’Rourke’s numbers have improved, Mr. Abbott’s campaign held a conference call with reporters this month.

“We’re on the right track, where we want to be,” said Dave Carney, the governor’s campaign strategist, adding that their strategy still included linking Mr. O’Rourke with Mr. Biden and reminding voters of Mr. O’Rourke’s positions on gun control, police reform and the oil industry during his failed primaries. 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

“He will relive the incredible disaster of running for president and all the things he said,” Mr. Carney said. “Believe me, he loved speaking and all of it on video and all of this goes against the values ​​and what the vast majority of Texans believe in.”

This approach has been part of Mr. Abbott’s message from the start, particularly on the question of weapons. In one of the first attacks on Mr. O’Rourke, Abbott’s campaign highlighted his pledge During the presidential campaign To pull AR-15 rifles.

The moment, which infuriated many Republicans, seemed at the same time a revitalization of Democrats who, like Mr. Tallarico, were excited to see an aggressive statewide standard-bearer. “He was showing all of us who believe in democracy in the broad sense of the term how to respond,” Tallarico said.

In Ovalde, a predominantly Spanish city where fishing is a popular pastime, the political mood has changed since the elementary Robb massacre. Many now support stricter gun laws. “Everyone has guns here,” said Vincent Salazar, who lost his granddaughter in the shooting. But this is different. Nobody needs AR-15s. We need to ban them.”

in A rally organized by the families of the victims this monthO’Rourke addressed the crowd and seemed to be greeted warmly. “Vote for them!” Some in the crowd cheered.

Mr Carney, in his call to reporters, admitted that the school shootings and new state restrictions on abortion had helped Mr O’Rourke. “Quite frankly, the advantage Peto got from all of this was raising money online,” he said.

Mr. O’Rourke has outstripped Mr. Abbott in small dollar donations, raising more than three times as much cash in donations of $200 or less, according to the Analysis by The Texas Tribune. And he’s starting to receive big checks, too: $1 million from billionaire George Soros, a frequent supporter of Democratic candidates, and $2 million from Simon and Tench Cox, Recent transplants to Austin from California.

However, Mr. Abbott, a prolific fundraiser, has more money in his campaign in the bank – nearly $46 million compared to about $24 million for Mr. O’Rourke – and the ability to quickly rely on a large network of wealthy benefactors. Mr. Abbott received 62 donations of $100,000 or more during the last fundraising period, compared to Mr. O’Rourke’s six.

Among the governor’s biggest donors were energy managers such as Jawed Anwar of Midland Energy (about $1.4 million), Kelsey Warren of Energy Transfer ($1 million) and Gary Martin of Falcon Bay Energy, who gave Mr. Abbott $680,000 worth of flights. .

Mr. Abbott’s campaign has already set aside $20 million in advertising spending for the fall, which Carney said would aggressively target the governor’s voters to keep them engaged and drive them out.

“We limit broadcasts to less than 10 percent of the electorate,” he said. He also predicted that Mr. Abbott would win among Hispanic Texans.

Adriana Alden, a public policy adviser who has worked with the Texas Republican Party in the past, said both candidates had connections to the Hispanic community, noting Mr O’Rourke’s fluency in Spanish and his upbringing in predominantly Spanish El Paso. Mr. Abbott’s wife, whose family emigrated from Mexico.

“It’s very clear that Latinos are very conservative in their values,” she said, “but with room for moderation.” Regarding guns, she cited her own view that the state Unauthorized pregnancy lawpassed in 2021 and signed by Mr Abbott, may have gone too far in the direction of removing restrictions.

I personally have a pistol. I have a license to carry this gun. I had a background check. “I think it’s okay to have these things,” she said. “I know many of my fellow Republicans disagree.”

In an effort to capitalize on what his advisers see as momentum, Mr. O’Rourke is back on the road, his political comfort zone, with a 49-day lead of events around Texas.

“If you just look from April to July, the race has changed by 5 points,” said Chris Evans, a campaign spokesperson. “People are not happy with the direction the country is going and we go directly to them and offer them an alternative.”

But it’s not clear how long the impact of recent events on Texas voters will last.

Increasing consumer costs were at the forefront of Sophia Graves, 50, on a recent afternoon at the First Colony Mall in Sugar Land, a rapidly growing community outside of Houston that is among the most diverse in the country.

“Everything is so expensive right now,” said Ms. Graves, a real estate agent from nearby Missouri City, who was shopping with her 17-year-old daughter. “We need relief.”

But she said she still planned to vote for Mr O’Rourke because he “just refreshes” and agreed with him on policies such as abortion and the need for stricter gun regulations. She said that recent events made her optimistic about the possibility of winning. “I’m more optimistic,” she said. “Its time for a change.”

Inflation was also Ahmad Sadzai’s main concern, as it threatened the middle-class lifestyle he said had drawn many immigrants to the United States. “I love this country,” said Mr. Sadzai, who came to Texas as a refugee from Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago and works two jobs, as a school bus driver and a home health aide. He did not have a favorite candidate for the governor.

“They need a raise,” he said, then stopped to take bites of a banana sundae in a rolled bun. “Other than that, I love him. Look what I eat!” he said with a smile.

Edgar Sandoval Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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