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O’Rourke Vows to Quell Texas ‘Culture War’ Politics in Speech

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke rallied Texas Democrats on abortion rights, gun control and securing the state electric grid in a prime-time speech at the Texas Democratic Convention Friday.

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Former Congressman O’Rourke told state party members that he would fight to reverse some of the conservative social policies enacted in the last few years under Governor Greg Abbott-- including voting restrictions, looser gun laws and a ban on abortions -- that have increased concern the state may see a tempering in the robust influx of businesses and people that have propelled its economic gains.

Imagine “a governor who will stand with small business owners to make sure that this is the best place to find innovation and ingenuity and talent, and that we don’t run these great people off with the culture wars currently being waged by our current governor,” O’Rourke said.

The El Paso native was the keynote speaker at the state Democratic convention in Dallas, where leaders are hoping to rally voters to unseat Abbott in the Nov. 8 election. The governor’s race has narrowed over the past few weeks with polls showing O’Rourke trailing Abbott by mid-single digit margins.

The results suggest Abbott’s favorability has taken a hit following the school shooting in Uvalde and the US Supreme Court decision to end the constitutional right to an abortion, after which Texas banned the procedure. Surveys have shown that most Texans support stricter gun control and oppose a complete ban on abortion.

While the recent events may be boosting O’Rourke’s chances, the economy may create headwinds for him and Democrats across the US. The highest inflation in 40 years has driven a decrease in President Joe Biden’s popularity, and may make it difficult for the Democratic Party to hold on to its majorities in Congress.

Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in Texas since 1994. This is O’Rourke’s second such race in four years. He previously represented El Paso in Congress until 2019, and made a bid to try and unseat Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, losing by the slimmest margin in any Senate race in Texas since 1978.

O’Rourke has focused his campaign on advocating for greater access to health care, quality education in schools and creating more Texas jobs. Abbott has made border security a central issue in his campaign, highlighting state programs he has implemented to try and decrease the number of migrants crossing into the state and curb drug trafficking. Abbott also frequently touts Texas’ economic growth and the steady flow of businesses and people to the Lone Star State, a trend that has so far gone unchanged.

This weekend marks the first time the Democrats held a convention, which takes place every other year, in person since 2018. Delegates will vote on the party platform Saturday afternoon. Republicans held their convention in Houston last month.

O’Rourke Friday announced that his campaign raised $27.6 million during the 17-week period ending June 30. That would be the highest amount raised by a statewide candidate in Texas in any given reporting period, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings from the Texas Ethics Commission dating back to 2000. Abbott raised nearly $25 million in the same period.

Still, Abbott has a massive war chest, with $45.7 million cash on hand as of June 30, according to his campaign. O’Rourke’s campaign didn’t reveal its current cash on hand figure but as of the last filing report at the end of February, he had about $7 million.

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