O’Rourke has been seeking advice from fellow Democrats about running against Abbott, who has faced renewed criticism over his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dallas Morning News reports. Abbott also has faced outrage over the state’s abortion ban, voter suppression measures and his handling of a storm last winter that crippled the state.
A race between O’Rourke, a popular Democrat, and an increasingly hard-right governor would make the election one of the most-watched contests of the 2022 election cycle. Axios was the first to report the news.
O’Rourke could make a decision in the next few weeks, possibly as soon as October, The New York Times reported. He has already reached out to supporters about a potential campaign, but a longtime adviser told the publication “no decision had been made.”
O’Rourke remains a popular figure in Texas politics after his close challenge of Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in 2018 and his bid for the White House in 2020.
Polling of a hypothetical matchup shows Abbott at 42% to O’Rourke’s 37%, The Dallas Morning News reported. The figures suggest a race would be the closest a Democratic candidate has been to winning the Texas governor’s mansion since Ann Richards won in 1990. In July a poll saw a 12-point difference, before Abbott’s recent decline.
Top Democratic officials said they were buoyed by the reports of O’Rourke’s interest in the race.
“We hope that he’s going to run,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, told Axios on Sunday. “We think he’ll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott, because he’s vulnerable.”
Hinojosa added that Texans were angered by Abbott’s fierce opposition to mask requirements and vaccination mandates, as well as the new abortion law.
Abbott’s camp told the Times on Sunday the governor was prepared for O’Rourke to enter the race.
“O’Rourke has been planning to run since he got crushed in his presidential flop,” David Carney, an Abbott campaign adviser, told the newspaper. “He is a target-rich environment with positions way, way out of the mainstream.”
Abbott is sitting on more than $55 million in campaign funds. O’Rourke proved to be a formidable fundraising machine during his bid for the Senate.