By Jack Fink

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Governor Greg Abbott launched a 60-campaign event blitz Saturday, Jan. 8 in his bid to win a third term.

During his kick-off speech before Latino voters in McAllen, Gov. Abbott  told supporters, “I am running for re-election to keep Texas on the right course.”

READ MORE: Texas Amber Alert Issued For 14-Year-Old Hillary Salcedo Out Of Buda

His campaign advisers say his theme is securing the future of Texas and will emphasize the border, crime, education, and the state’s economy.

Gov. Abbott touted his record during the pandemic.

“Despite the unprecedented challenges that we’ve faced, Texas has persevered. Now, more businesses are moving here and more Texans are working here than ever in the history of our state.”

He is facing seven Republican challengers in the primary, including former Texas GOP Chair Allen West and former State Senator Don Huffines of Dallas.

Polls have shown Abbott with a comfortable lead among primary voters.

His campaign advisers say they’re focused on the general election and the likely Democratic nominee, former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

Joanne Green, a Political Science Professor at TCU, said despite criticism from some grassroots conservatives about Abbott’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Abbott shored up his conservative policies. “The last year was a very smart year for him shoring up his conservative base by shifting his policy focuses more to the right, particularly his movement on guns, his movement on reproductive issues, particularly the abortion law.”

Green said polls show that may hurt him among Independents. “He’s going to need some support from the Independent voters and so I think that’s perhaps where he has some vulnerability but he’s very popular among a large portion of the state. So he’s really running from a position of strength.”

Even though his campaign advisers are focusing on the general election, they say they’re still running a strong field operation by knocking on doors, making phone calls, advertising on tv, to increase the number of Republicans who turn out for the primary.”

Green said “You want more people to vote in the primary for you, not in a divisive primary. Ideally, you want to have a unified primary and hopefully have as little division as possible because primary voters are more likely to vote again in the general election and you need high turnout in a general election.”

READ MORE: Cashing Out? City Of Dallas Revokes 'Poker Room' Permits Months After Approving Them

A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed O’Rourke trailing Abbott by 15 percentage points, 52 to 37 percent.

O’Rourke has repeatedly criticized Gov. Abbott as too extreme for Texas.

Because of the national mid-term elections, which historically favor the party out of the White House, Green said 2022 is a more difficult year for O’Rourke and Democrats in general to run for office. “I think he definitely has an uphill battle, not impossible battle, but an uphill battle.”

The general election is November 8.

Gov. Abbott’s campaign said Abbott’s event in McAllen became the first time a Republican candidate for governor launched a campaign in the Rio Grande Valley.

His goal is to win the Latino vote outright.

Citing exit polls, Abbott’s strategists said he won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2014 and 42 percent of the Latino vote in 2018.

In his speech, Abbott said he delivered on his promises to the RGV of building more roads, a level one trauma center, and Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen.

In a release Saturday, O’Rourke’s campaign blasted Abbott’s event. “He has consistently used the Rio Grande Valley as a photo opportunity, without listening to the real needs or wishes of border residents.”

A poll by PBS-NewsHour-NPR-Marist last month found President Joe Biden’s support among Latinos was at 33 percent.

Green said support for Biden in 2020 in the RGV was lower than in previous presidential election.

MORE NEWS: Wearing Only Socks And Shorts, Dallas 11-Year-Old Traveon Michael Allen Griffin Missing Overnight

“It showed a vulnerability that the Republicans have been long trying to exploit. I think the Governor sees an opportunity there which has long existed,” Green said.