Taking on Gov. Abbott will be a steep climb for opponents

Gov. Abbott announces his re-election bid in San Antonio, Texas on July 14, 2017 (KXAN Photo)
Gov. Abbott announces his re-election bid in San Antonio, Texas on July 14, 2017 (KXAN Photo)

SAN ANTONIO (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott is running for his second term to be the chief executive of the state of Texas, making the announcement Friday in downtown San Antonio.

To become governor in Texas, you have to get the majority of Republican primary voters to pick you. That’s around 800,000 people. No statewide politician is as popular with them as Greg Abbott, with an approval rating of 90 percent among Tea Party voters.

“That makes him pretty bulletproof, or at least pretty intimidating,” said Jim Henson with the Texas Policy Project. His non-partisan organization does regular polling on Texas politicians and issues.

Henson says a key to that is how Abbott taps into their number one issue: immigration and border security.

“This is one of the reasons why you saw Greg Abbott embrace the sanctuary cities issue and sign that bill in a way that channeled his support for that bill directly to Republican voters via Facebook live in a way that frankly, didn’t require him to share any of the credit with anyone else,” said Henson.

That and a boatload of money doesn’t hurt either. Nearing $40 million, he can outspend any other Texas politician.

“That war chest sends a signal to people that any challenge to Gov. Abbott is going to be met with a massive retaliation, if you will,” said Henson.

Democrats are holding on to hope as they expect a backlash against President Donald Trump to trickle down to Texas. They already have near-record numbers for Congressional candidates spread out across Texas.

“The game has changed. We believe, structurally, the playing field has changed,” said Cliff Walker, the political director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Currently, Democrats have not fielded a challenger to Gov. Abbott and all but two other statewide races. Walker says it’s too early. Past Democratic candidates announced in the fall.

“We are talking to some authentic, dynamic leaders, who have a real track record of delivering solutions. And we are ready,” said Walker.

As of now, Gov. Abbott steps into the field unopposed.

“Absolutely there will be a dynamic, authentic democrat running against Governor Greg Abbott,” said Manny Garcia, Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party. “That announcement will come in due time.”

Historically, Garcia says democrats have entered the governor’s race in the Fall.

According to the Texas Politics Project, Gov. Abbott is the most popular Republican elected official statewide. That’s followed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, then Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Many believe Patrick could be the only real challenger to Abbott on the Republican side. Patrick told KXAN earlier this year he’s not running against Abbott. Instead, with $17 million in the bank, he plans to run again for lieutenant governor.

Gov. Abbott’s future with Hispanic voters

During Friday’s announcement, Gov. Abbott touted his passage of the sanctuary cities law. It requires local law enforcement to honor federal requests to detain jailed immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.  It also empowers local officers to ask about a person’s immigration status during traffic stops.

“In Texas we expect elected officials to enforce the law,” Gov. Abbott told the crowd. “If they don’t want to enforce the law they just need to step aside.”

During his first run for governor in 2014 against Wendy Davis, Gov. Abbott launched an aggressive outreach campaign to try to win over Hispanic voters. In the end, he took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Gov. Rick Perry’s 38 percent in 2010.

A poll conducted post Senate Bill 4 by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune shows Hispanics went from having no opinion about the job Gov. Abbott was doing to strongly disapproving.

“I think the Latino community has seen time and time again that Abbott does not have their best interest at heart,” said Garcia with the Texas Democratic Party.

Gov. Abbott’s office sent KXAN the following statement when asked if the governor believes the sanctuary cities law will have an impact on the progress he made in 2014 among Hispanic voters:

Texans of all walks of life, including Latinos, want the same thing as every other Texan – safety and security in their communities – and that’s what this bill does by keeping dangerous criminals off of our streets.  If critics had a genuine interest in assuaging the concerns of citizens, they would resist the urge to resort to fear-mongering as it relates to Senate Bill 4. The governor’s office encourages all officials to avoid the temptation of distorting the facts, which is fast becoming the real culprit behind these concerns.”

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