Gov. Greg Abbott announced his candidacy for a second term Friday before a revved-up crowd of about 400 supporters in downtown San Antonio, promising to preserve Texas exceptionalism and protect it from the encroachments of government and Democratic liberals.
“To keep Texas the very best state in the United States, I’m running for re-election,” Abbott declared.
“Texas is the Lone Star State for a reason. We stand apart as a model for the rest of the nation,” Abbott said. “Now I need your help to write the next chapter in our extraordinary history. Together, we will keep Texas the most exceptional state in America.”
Abbott drew his first official challenger Friday. According to CBS-TV in Dallas, Jeffrey Payne, a Dallas businessman, filed the paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to be a Democratic candidate for governor, but neither the Abbott campaign nor Texas Democratic Party officials knew anything about Payne.
Outside the Abbott event, about a dozen protesters chanted their objections to the ban on so-called sanctuary cities that Abbott counts as his proudest achievement of this year’s regular legislative session, and to Abbott’s effort to enact a transgender bathroom bill in the special session that starts Tuesday. Several protesters made it inside the event and were removed by police.
It remains to be seen whether Abbott will face a full-blown challenge to his re-election.
The biggest question mark for Abbott and for Republicans more generally in 2018, is what fallout there might be from Donald Trump’s unorthodox presidency. So far, Republicans nationally and in Texas have remained largely loyal to the president, but he is treading such unusual terrain that there is no telling if and when that could change. Also, the first midterm election after a party takes the presidency — especially when that party controls Congress as well — usually isn’t kind to the incumbent party.
A sure bet
Barring the unforeseen, Abbott’s re-election is about as sure a bet as there is in American politics. Republicans have held the Texas governorship since George W. Bush defeated Gov. Ann Richards in 1994, which was also the last year any Democrat won statewide office in Texas.
The recurrent GOP chant inside the hall preceding Abbott’s Friday appearance was, “keep Texas red!”
Abbott won election in 2014, defeating Wendy Davis, then a state senator from Fort Worth, by 20 points.
But since then, Abbott said, “Liberals think they’ve found cracks in our armor. In 2014, I won Harris County and Bexar County. In 2016, Hillary won them both.”
“What happened? George Soros for one,” Abbott said of the billionaire investor who is one of the nation’s leading donors to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. “He poured big money into Harris County and (Democrats) won every countywide race.”
Noting that U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking in Dallas in May, had described the new state law banning sanctuary cities as “an act of cowardice,” Abbott said, “I’ve got news for Nancy Pelosi. I’m running for re-election to make sure that San Francisco liberals like her will not be running our great state.”
Abbott was introduced by his daughter, Audrey, 20, who said for her father, Texas “is more than a state, it’s a passion, it’s a vision.”
Special session gambit
Despite the seeming inevitability of his re-election, Abbott, generally a careful politician, has been less risk-averse since the end of the regular legislative session on Memorial Day.
In the weeks since, Abbott, a former state Supreme Court justice and state attorney general, has recast his persona from that of the judge — cool and reserved — to the general, calling a special session and throwing down the gauntlet of an ambitious and conservative 20-point agenda. And, despite the fact that it is largely composed of issues that proved intractable in the regular session, Abbott had his campaign mass produce “20-for-20” lapel pins, his special session slogan.
Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas and for the Texas Lyceum poll, said that the 20-for-20 goal raised the question of what, short of that virtually impossible objective, would constitute success and the possibility that the governor could be perceived as having fallen short.
But Blank said in a year in which Republicans may be nervous about the Trump effect, Abbott’s role as an aggressive champion of conservative priorities embodied in special session agenda might serve the purpose of “ginning up the base,” and that in Texas, if Republicans turn out the base, even in an otherwise slack year for the GOP, they win.
Blank said the image of a governor commanding results from a Republican Legislature would also provide a stark contrast to the disarray in Washington.
From San Antonio, Abbott was heading to McAllen to kick off a “statewide block walk” for his campaign Saturday morning.
“With your help, we’re building the largest grass-roots army in Texas history right here in Bexar County and across the state,” Abbott said.