EDINBURG, Texas (NewsNation) — Texas has not elected a Democratic governor in 31 years, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke hopes pressing issues such as abortion, education and gun control can help him unseat Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in November.
Abbott, however, leads O’Rourke in most pre-election polls and has centered his campaign around illegal immigration, a hot-button issue nationally and especially in Texas.
The two candidates, who have not minced words about one another this election cycle, will debate live on KXAN and other Nexstar stations in South Texas Sept. 30 in a showing that could swing the tight race to the favor of one candidate over the other.
Abbott declared Mexican cartels to be terrorist organizations this week and O’Rourke has increased his rhetoric about the number of mass shootings that have occurred in Texas under Abbott’s watch, as both candidates appear to be playing their hits ahead of the debate.
But the question now, however, is which issue will play better with Texans?
“Greg Abbott feels the wind is at his back when it comes to the border, both with sending migrants to Chicago and New York, and then Ron DeSantis sending them to Martha’s Vineyard, has brought the border debate up into the very top issue for a lot of voters,” NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said. “Republicans are trusted by voters to deal with border and immigration issues by more than a 2 to 1 margin.”
Vittert said it appears O’Rourke is trying to mobilize suburban and rural mothers to the polls by harkening on the issue of gun safety at schools during his campaign.
“You might remember very famously when he was running for president he said ‘yes,” with some other language, ‘I am going to take away the guns,'” Vittert said. “So this is really not about what issue is most important to Texans. It’s what issue is most important to the voters that can be turned out for each one of these candidates.”
Border cities and towns in Texas are almost certainly going to resonate with Abbott’s rhetoric around immigration, but larger cities such as Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio — where the state’s Democrats generally reside — might be more lukewarm to some of the conversation. But, Vittert says those cities have still felt the impact of the border issues facing Texas.
“They feel the effects of the fentanyl that have come over,” Vittert said. “The place that I think we’re going to probably be the most focused on in terms of looking at what’s happening with voters is along the Rio Grande and the counties that go along the Rio Grande had traditionally been Hispanic and Democrat.”