Texas Democrats already tried to make gun control a salient political issue last election, with not much to show for it.
Now Beto O’Rourke, a candidate who has closely associated himself with strict restrictions on guns, is hoping for a different result from the same strategy. Thus far, he hasn’t found much success. A new Quinnipiac poll has O’Rourke (D.) trailing incumbent Governor Greg Abbott (R.) by 15-points overall among registered voters. But, perhaps the most striking finding of the poll was the results on the issue of gun policy, where O’Rourke found himself at a 27-point disadvantage to the man he hopes to unseat in the Governor’s mansion.
O’Rourke, because of his infamous declaration that “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” would likely find it hard to shake the image of a gun-control candidate even if he tried. Instead, he appears to be doubling down on his promise to confiscate Texans’ guns. At the same time, he’s attempting to paint Abbott as the true gun extremist for championing almost the exact opposite approach by signing reforms such as permitless gun-carry into law.
If the last election cycle in Texas is any guide, that strategy will be a hard sell.
In the lead-up to the 2020 elections, Texas Democrats decided to make gun control a major campaign issue. They did so under the theory that an increasingly educated and urbanized Texas electorate would make for a constituency more receptive to such policies.
As Reuters reported at the time: “Texas Democrats are pulling out a new playbook in this year’s congressional races, loudly backing gun control in a bet that a strategy that paid off in Virginia can also win elections in a conservative-leaning state long associated with gun rights.”
In recognition of the candidates prominently running on new gun restrictions, the Bloomberg-backed gun-control organization Everytown for Gun Safety reportedly spent $8 million—its largest Texas-election contribution ever—on Texas Congressional and state races that year as part of the push.
Yet in the end, Texas Democratic Congressional candidates—including the two gun control candidates profiled in the Reuters piece—failed to flip a single one of the Congressional seats they were targeting from Republicans.
And the statehouse results were not much better. Texas Democrats only managed to flip one seat while also losing a previously held seat en route to remaining in the minority.
Several million more people have become gun owners since gun-control activists and Democratic hopefuls launched those efforts. And national polling on the issue of gun control has shown a stark shift against new restrictions.
All of this bodes poorly for would-be gun-control candidates, like O’Rourke, in Texas. The state boasts a higher rate of gun ownership than the national average and a traditional ethos of gun-rights advocacy, making national trends toward gun rights all the more intense.
Of course, it is still early in the election cycle, and polling numbers are subject to change in the face of current events. Shifting circumstances and significant future events in Texas politics could narrow the polling gap, theoretically even on the issue of gun control, over the next year.
The Democratic primary electorate could also select a more moderate gubernatorial candidate than O’Rourke in the upcoming primary election.
But, at the same time, O’Rourke enjoys exceptionally high name recognition and strong national backing, making him a formidable candidate in the primary with good odds of securing the nomination.
If he does win the nomination, with the baggage of calling for gun confiscation on a national platform, O’Rourke will face an uphill battle in trying to become Texas’ next Governor.