Ramsey: Abbott starting to run up the score in front of 2022 election
Over the last couple of weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott’s fortunes have lined up nicely. Moments like this are rare and often don’t last long in Texas politics, so take note.
He’s only a few days into the second special session of his governorship — one that’s focused on more restrictive voting and election laws. It includes other issues of interest to Republican officials and voters in particular, including bans on abortion drugs, teaching critical race theory, restrictions on transgender athletes in public schools, and money for policing and for building a wall on the state’s border with Mexico.
Those issues could be helpful to Republican incumbents looking to fend off primary challengers, and while we’re at it, to Democrats who want to show their opposition to some of Abbott’s ideas.
Specifically, the agenda could make it harder for conservative GOP challengers to attack incumbent Republicans as insufficiently conservative.
That would work for the governor, if he needed the help. But Abbott isn’t in political trouble — just look at the smoke coming out of his chimney recently.
First was the announcement that former President Donald Trump, who remains very popular with Republican voters in Texas, was endorsing Abbott for reelection.
Then came word that the governor raised $18.7 million in the last 10 days of June, bringing his cash-on-hand balance to $55 million. The best-known candidate is starting the 2022 governor’s race with enough money to bury everyone, even if he wasn’t already well known.
If you didn’t think the current set of Republican challengers to the governor were gnats, the Trump endorsement and Abbott’s fundraising results should end the argument.
In case that’s not enough, Abbott’s campaign released “internal polling” — a phrase that hides the campaign’s deep desire for the public to see the results — that shows the governor getting 69%, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West at 13%, and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and former state Sen. Don Huffines both at 3%. Miller, who has some real-life rodeo experience, apparently knows when to stay away from the big animals; he has said he will seek reelection to his current post in 2022.
The season is just starting and maybe someone has a magic lantern, but Abbott has everything an incumbent could want right now — nothing at all to fret about.
That’s going to make him a bigger problem for Texas Democrats. They don’t yet have a challenger of their own for the governor’s race, the top contest on the ticket next year. Second, as soon as census numbers are available, the Legislature — which has Republican majorities in both houses — will draw political maps that will be used in the 2022 elections.
All of that is encouraging to down-ballot Republicans, who’ll be running behind a juggernaut at the top of the ticket on maps drawn by their fellow conservatives to give them every possible edge. And the incumbents in that crowd will be boasting about how they voted on red-meat issues in the current special session.
If they get their way with the special session’s signature issue, they’ll be running in an election under new laws that voting rights activists say are particularly hard on people of color, and Democrats.
They’ve set the table for a Republican-flavored election cycle, if the current special session goes well. The Republicans in the Legislature have plenty to fight about, if they want to, as demonstrated in the regular session that saw differences on voting law, restrictions on transgender athletes, responses to February’s electric grid failure and other issues.
Some of those are on the agenda now. Some, like the grid, didn’t make the governor’s list. Despite the differences within the GOP, things in Texas government and politics are going their way right now — especially for that guy who lives in the Governor’s Mansion.
Ross Ramsey is co-founder and executive editor of the Texas Tribune, where this column originally appeared.