Texas Governor’s Race Hold ‘em. Who’s Overplaying Their Hand?


April 29, 2019 – Former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People hosted by the Center for the American Progress Action Fund and the SEIU at the Enclave in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons)

April 29, 2019 – Former U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People hosted by the Center for the American Progress Action Fund and the SEIU at the Enclave in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons)

As the week dawned, word leaked out that Beto O’Rourke would be attempting his third major campaign in as many cycles, filing as a Democrat for the Governor’s race in Texas. Incumbent Governor Greg Abbott has made it very clear that he is going for a third term.


Both candidates seem to have strong hands, but each may be overplaying what they have been dealt. In Texas political terms, each is playing a game of Hold’em.


For those unfamiliar with the poker game Texas Hold’em, each player is dealt two cards called The Hole. These are the cards “held close to the vest”.  Then there are three community cards dealt on the table  The Flop. Bets are made and then another card is dealt – The Turn. After another round of betting, the final card is dealt – The River. After another round of bets, the cards are called and the player makes a hand combining his/her cards with those on the table.


For our purposes, we are still in The Flop phase of the Texas Governor’s race. Each candidate has cards they are holding close to the vest. Where their money is going to come from –  opposition research, polling, surveys, etc.


Money is no small factor in Texas politics. Any donor may give an unlimited amount to any candidate. Here Abbott starts with a huge pile of chips: $55 million in the war chest. Beto has a national fundraising network and he will quickly become the darling of Act Blue, a massive non-profit political fundraiser for Democrats, who will undoubtedly stake him funds. He’ll be able to ante and play at the table, but it won’t be easy.

Then we have the issues. Abbott has decided to go full-tilt, hard-right MAGA. He’s backed a very controversial voter law, signed into law a very restrictive abortion law, ordered schools not to have mask mandates, authorized state funds to build a wall along the border, and placed severe restrictions on how history is taught in schools.


Still, when it comes to the primary (or “The Turn” in our poker analogy), recent polling seems to indicate that while Abbott has a leg up on primary challengers Allen West, Don Huffines, and Chad Prather even though his stances have not endeared him to the Texas voters. In the most recent Dallas Morning News poll, 44% of all voters and 54% of independent voters disapprove of the job the governor is doing.


Abbott continues to deal with the political fallout from his laws and policies. Many are calling for the NCAA to pull the 2022 Women’s Final Four from Dallas, much like MLB did with the All-Star Game in the wake of Georgia passing restrictive voter legislation. Apple, Salesforce, and other companies are offering to help relocate Texas employees or financially assist them to have abortions out of state.


Of course, O’Rourke has some issues to deal with as well. He’s viewed unfavorably by 43% of all voters and 42% of Independents. This is after he made a celebrated run at Senator Ted Cruz and a quixotic run for president. Of all of O’Rourke’s political stances, he has notably come out against all assault rifles, which may not go over well in pro-gun Texas. He has been very consistent in his opposition to all the stands the Governor has taken.


In addition, O’Rourke has been traveling the state all summer in a large voter registration effort all the while maintaining his rather well-known social media campaigns. But he doesn’t know if the cards dealt to him in The Turn will include another player at the table: actor Matthew McConaughey. Here O’Rourke has to look out for two things, a bruising primary challenge or an independent bid. In the case of the latter, I would place my chips on Abbott getting re-elected.


Heading to the general election (or “The River”), it is extremely close. In head-to-head polling, O’Rourke trails Abbott by five points among all voters and by one point among independents. McConaughey leads Abbott among all voters by nine points and by a whopping 16 points among independents. At this point, I would say this is the spread for either candidate against Abbott. They could lose by five or win by as many as nine. Depending on if they played their cards right.


What we may see is that the unpopular stances taken by the incumbent, including his handling of the pandemic, will hinder his ability to pivot in the general, winning re-election to a third term. As of right now, the odds do favor Abbott slightly, but if O’Rourke enters the general election with momentum and party unity, he might as well be holding aces.

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