Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, speaks at a town hall event at Leonard Park in Gainesville in June 2021. The event was part of O’Rourke's “For the People” campaign.


The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke is running for governor, challenging Republican Greg Abbott in a clash of two of Texas’ biggest politicians.

“I’m running to serve the people of Texas, and I want to make sure that we have a governor that serves everyone, helps to bring this state together to do the really big things before us and get past the small, divisive politics and policies of Greg Abbott,” O’Rourke said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “It is time for change.”

The former El Paso congressman, 2018 U.S. Senate nominee and 2020 presidential contender said he was running for governor to improve public schools, health care and jobs in Texas. But O’Rourke also took sharp aim at Abbott’s record, citing new laws he backed this year that ban most abortions in Texas, tighten voting rules and allow permitless carry of handguns. He also criticized Abbott over the February power grid failure that left most of the state without electricity in subfreezing temperatures.

In a video announcing his campaign Monday morning, O'Rourke focuses heavily on the grid failure, saying Texans were "abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them." O’Rourke said in the interview that Abbott “has stopped listening to and trusting the people of Texas.”

“He doesn’t trust women to make their health care decisions, doesn’t trust police chiefs when they tell him not to sign the permitless carry bill into law, he doesn’t trust voters so he changes the rules of our elections, and he doesn’t trust local communities,” O’Rourke said, referring to Abbott’s policies preventing local officials from making their own pandemic rules.

O’Rourke’s decision to enter the race ends months of speculation and gives Democrats a formidable campaigner at the top of the ticket — someone who transformed Texas politics with his blockbuster campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. The clock has been ticking, with the candidate filing deadline for the March 2022 primary less than a month away.

Abbott's campaign reacted to O'Rourke's launch by yoking him to President Joe Biden, releasing an animated image of O'Rourke morphing into Biden.

June event in Gainesville

O’Rourke visited Gainesville in June to host a town hall event at Leonard Park, one of several stops on his For the People: The Texas Drive for Democracy, a tour aimed at promoting voting rights and transparency.

“We want to make sure everyone is aware of what is happening to our democracy right now, with the elections bill that have passed or are pending, like ours here in Texas, that would significantly restrict the right to vote,” O’Rourke said at the event. “That, compounded by the threat of political violence in our elections, and of course the political insurrection attempt on the 6th of January, where five people lost their lives, including a police officer.”

O’Rourke admitted at the Gainesville gathering that he was considering another run for elective office.

“That might be running for office or it might be supporting others who run for office,” he said. “In some form of public service — in office or otherwise — is what I want to pursue.”

Crowded field

O’Rourke also ran as Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. Prior to his presidential run, O’Rourke represented Texas' 16th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019.

In the race for governor, O’Rourke will have to beat out at least three other Democratic candidates in the primary before taking on a Republican challenger.

Abbott also faces a crowded primary with at least five other candidates, including competition from Allen West, former chair of the Texas Republican Party, and former Texas State Senator Don Huffines.

A recent poll by Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University’s Baker Institute had O’Rourke in a near dead heat with Abbott. A separate poll by The Texas Tribune and University of Texas at Austin had the gap at 9% points in favor of Abbott.

CNHI Texas staff contributed to this report.

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