Mark Archibald

Mark Archibald 

Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke debated better than Texas’s Republican Governor last Friday, but Greg Abbott won the night, simply because he got through it. In a debate the challenger must act boldly to change minds, but it’s unlikely that either man’s performance moved the needle enough to affect the race’s expected outcome.

Several recent polls show Abbott ahead by sizable margins, all the Republican had to do was survive the only scheduled debate between the two candidates. Barring unforeseen events or a catastrophic gaffe, I predict Abbott will comfortably win a third term as the state’s Chief Executive.

The one-hour debate, focused on several topics including immigration, education, family planning, the economy, the Texas power grid, as well as the response to the Uvalde school shooting.

Moderators probed for further conversation about gun reform and legislative efforts, predictably, both candidates parsed the question. Abbott defended his positions, while showing support for legal gun owners he also questioned the Constitutional muster of gun reform legislation enacted by other states. Abbott employed a solid strategy here, understanding that he needs to unite Republicans who have been dissatisfied with his performance during his previous two terms as Governor.

For his part, O’Rourke focused on building consensus around initiatives the majority, including Independents agree on, including raising the age in which people can purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21.

Although the challenger managed a few snappy retorts during the course of the evening, many of his zingers largely appeared to miss their mark.

Instead, Abbott who often seemed disinterested in the proceedings, challenged Beto’s assertions about several topics, largely avoiding the former El Paso Congressman’s attempts to bait him into an emotional exchange.

For his part, Abbott successfully pushed back on O’Rourke’s assertion that the Governor didn’t react decisively to protect Texas schools, by promising accountability and a review of law enforcement’s procedures. He then pivoted, attacking O’Rourke who had previously made statements supporting efforts to defund the police.

Beto attempted to use nuance to explain his positions, but his words during a debate are unlikely to drown out the repetition of television ads which have connected O’Rourke to that unpopular policy. Still, Abbott’s best and most commonly used tactic of deflection, was to repeatedly blame the Biden Administration. Abbott has been in office eight years, but President Biden’s 32% approval rating in Texas which is 10% lower than the national average explains why this is a sound political strategy.

Beto O’Rourke is a charismatic figure who reached his zenith in 2018 when he was narrowly defeated by Ted Cruz for the United States Senate. During that campaign, O’Rourke connected with people across the state, encouraging nonvoters and those who felt forgotten by the system to join him and improve conditions for all Texans.

Many have speculated if Beto can win, he may, but his true impact on Texas politics will be recognized once he leaves the stage and others follow his example to get involved at the local level. A legacy of political advocacy is greater than any office or four-year term could provide.

Mark Archibald is a freelance reporter and columnist. His opinion column, On the Mark, recently won first place in column writing from the North and East Texas Press Association’s Texas Better Newspaper Contest, an annual contest for member newspapers honoring the best content published in the previous year. Please feel free to send comments to onthemarkfeedback@gmail.com

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