The most-aggressive gun-control candidate in the country is fading as the election approaches.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke has dropped to 13 points behind incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott, according to a new poll from the University of Houston. The poll, released on Tuesday, shows O’Rourke falling another three points behind Abbott from the last survey conducted by the University in August. It is the largest lead any poll has found for Abbott and bumps his lead in the Real Clear Politics average up to 9.2 percent, among the largest since February.
The polling decline comes as O’Rourke has been one of the only candidates to make calls for AR-15 confiscation a central part of his campaign. In contrast, Abbott signed a series of pro-gun reforms in the lead-up to the campaign, including a permitless gun-carry bill.
Thanks to the stark contrast in approaches offered by the candidates, the race has become one of the few clear bellwethers on gun politics in America. If O’Rourke pulls off an unexpected win, many will see it as a significant win for gun-control advocates. If O’Rourke loses, it will likely put a damper on how aggressively Democrats pursue gun-control policies in future elections.
O’Rourke has kept gun control at the center of his campaign even as he continues to fall behind in the campaign’s closing days. His closing TV ad leads with an attack on Abbott over the Uvalde school shooting. He also continues to highlight the issue on his social media accounts.
“23 weeks since 21 loved ones were massacred in their classrooms, and Greg Abbott hasn’t changed a single thing to make it any less likely that any other child will meet the same fate,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “His inaction is disqualifying. Keeping our kids safe demands that we vote him out.”
However, O’Rourke has not been consistent in his gun message. While running in the Democratic presidential primary, he attempted to make a splash before eventually dropping out by calling for the confiscation of popular rifles.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during a September 2019 debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
But, after launching his campaign for Texas governor, he walked back that call.
“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” he told supporters during a February 2022 campaign stop. “What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”
Only a few days later, he then walked back that walk back.
“I don’t think that we should have AR-15s and AK-47s on the streets of this state — I have seen what they do to my fellow Texans in El Paso in 2019,” he told The New York Times. “I haven’t changed a thing about that. I’m just telling you I’m going to focus on what I can actually do as governor and where the common ground is.”
O’Rourke’s campaign website currently says he does not believe Americans should be allowed to own the guns.
“And while it might not be the easy or politically safe thing to say, I don’t believe any civilian should own an AR-15 or AK-47,” he said on the site.
In contrast, Abbott has remained staunchly pro-gun. He has resisted calls for new gun-control measures, including further restrictions on what guns 18-to-20-year-olds can own.
“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde–as much as they may want it–has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” he said at a campaign event in late August, according to The Texas Tribune.
The University of Houston surveyed 1,200 likely voters in Texas between October 19th and 22nd. Its poll has a margin of error of +/-2.8 percent.