Texas governor Greg Abbott could be headed for a rocky reelection fight next year if recent polling trends continue over the next 12 months.
The conservative hardliner faces two high-profile potential challengers who have expressed interest in seeking the governor’s mansion: Beto O’Rourke, former congressman and US Senate candidate who came within just a few percentage points of ousting senator Ted Cruz in 2018; and Matthew McConaughey, the Oscar-winning actor and Texas native.
Recent polls suggest the governor is more vulnerable than ever before. A survey taken this month by the University of Texas at Tyler for the Dallas Morning News found that Mr Abbott’s approval rating stands at 45 per cent, down a shocking 14 points over the course of a year as his state has weathered some of the worst rates of Covid-19 in the country and become a hotspot for the battle over abortion rights and voting restrictions.
More than 60,000 people have died across Texas since the pandemic began in early 2020, but the state government has remained steadfast in its opposition to mask mandates and sought to block local officials from instituting such policies, a move that proudly flouted public health experts and the advice of doctors.
The state also erupted in political warfare earlier this month when a restrictive ban on abortions after six weeks, signed into law by Mr Abbott, went into effect without action from the US Supreme Court, making Texas the most restrictive state in the country for abortion providers and patients.
Mr O’Rourke is the more likely potential challenger to jump in the race, having come closer than most to breaking the GOP’s hold on Texas’ US Senate delegation and facing enormous pressure to do something statewide following his abysmal showing in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Axios reported on Sunday that Mr O’Rourke was planning a run for governor, citing Texas-based political operatives.
His bid would likely receive the support of Democrats across the country, as was the case during his unsuccessful Senate bid, which raised millions from out-of-state donors.
Mr McConaughey is seen as a potential challenger after showing interest during a handful of media interviews with Texas-based outlets earlier this year. He told the Austin American-Statesman that he’d “be a fool” to not consider a gubernatorial bid, but has remained cagey as to whether he would run as a Democrat, Republican, third-party candidate or independent.
"I think, going in, to think Democrat or Republican or one of the other, is small thinking now and even becoming unconstitutional because you’re supposed to serve the American people or the people of your state," he added in an interview with the Longview News-Journal.
Other Texas figures, including Mr O’Rourke’s fellow 2020 Democratic primary candidate, Julián Castro, have also made statements indicating possible interest in challenging the increasingly-vulnerable Mr Abbott, who is running for a third term in office.
“He hasn’t ruled anything out and we’re watching the race closely,” Sawyer Hackett, the executive director of the People First Future PAC that Mr Castro founded, told Politico in May.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies