By Jack Fink

TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – News that Democrat Beto O’Rourke is considering a run against Governor Greg Abbott has people talking, including Democratic activist Haley Taylor Schlitz.

“I’m excited about the potential turn of the tables, a potential change in our government. I think it’s important to consider that as time goes on, America and Texas start to look different.”

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So far, no major Democrat has stepped forward to challenge the governor. In June, O’Rourke attracted hundreds of supporters to a rally in Denton he organized to fight against the elections integrity bill. At the time, he told me he would consider a run after the elections issue, and that any candidate would have a lot to think about. “It’s a long, grueling, brutal affair. There’s 254 of these counties if you’re going to do it right, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if people are thinking about the scope and scale of the challenge and look at the field and making their decision.”

O’Rourke ran for President last year and came close to defeating Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. Many Democrats did well nationally and in Texas that year because it was President Donald Trump’s mid-term election year. Next year is President Joe Biden’s mid-term election year, and Republicans are expected to do well. Historically, the political party out of the White House makes gains in Congress and in state elections.

SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson said Tuesday that O’Rourke would face challenges. “We won’t see the kind of Betomania if he runs next year that we saw in 2018. That said, there’s still a core of support and enthusiasm for him. But his failed Presidential campaign really exposed a lot of flaws in him as a candidate that caused a lot of people to reappraise and to have a more negative assessment that what they had a few years ago.”
A new Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll shows O’Rourke’s favorable rating at 34%, his unfavorable rating 42%. He trails Governor Abbott in the same poll 42 to 37%.  Abbott has $55 million in his campaign account.

Wilson said even though the Governor is being challenged by two major conservative candidates, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West, and former State Senator Don Huffines of Dallas, the Governor is considered the frontrunner in the primary and the general election. “By no means does it suggest the race is a done deal. By no means does it suggest Abbott isn’t vulnerable. But Abbott does hold the advantage going into the election.”
The same poll shows Abbott’s popularity has fallen. His job approval rating is at 45%, while 44% disapprove.

In the primary match-up, the poll shows Abbott leads West, 65-20% and Huffines, 70-15%. One of the Governor’s closest political allies, State Senator Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, brushed off the poll results.

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“I’ve also seen those same polls that has him victorious against any of his opponents, and so at the end of the day, that’s where you look. If you look at everybody else’s numbers, I’d take his over his opponents.”

The current Texas Republican Party Chair, Matt Rinaldi said earlier this month he’d like to see O’Rourke jump back into the ring. “I think Republicans are very hopeful Beto O’Rourke decides to run for Governor considering his past track record.”

In an interview earlier this month, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa told me that if O’Rourke ran, he would campaign his message effectively. “He’s the one that best articulates that in this state, far better than any Republican. We’re hopeful he does run. We think that he can beat Greg Abbott.”

State Senator Royce West of Dallas is among those waiting to see if O’Rourke enters the race. “He will be a person to be reckoned with during the general election if he’s the Democratic nominee. I welcome his participation and also getting to understand exactly what his agenda will be.”

Schlitz said while there’s always a concern when past candidates run again, O’Rourke’s effort to register voters gives him credibility among Democrats. “I think that his message has been consistent in that he’s very passionate, and I think that resonates with voters that just because you lost, you didn’t fade away, that you actually care about the issue, it’s not just the election.”

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