The Democratic nominee for Texas governor has swung back to a pro-gun message as he struggles to gain ground.
Beto O’Rourke’s campaign released a new social media ad on Sunday featuring a gun owner endorsing him. The ad features an attendee at one of his recent rallies praising his approach to gun policy. The supporter said she’d been told that O’Rourke is for taking people’s guns.
“Coming from a conservative town and a very conservative family, I still have people in my ear that fear-mongering that he was coming for our guns,” the supporter said in the video. “And I very much bought into it.”
However, she changed her mind because O’Rourke said he supports gun rights.
“I heard tonight Beto, out of his own mouth, say that he wants to protect our Second Amendment but have reasonable and responsible gun legislation,” the supporter said, “and that he wants to prioritize the lives of children.”
The ad comes as a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler put O’Rourke down by ten points against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. That is the first poll to put O’Rourke up by that margin since April, according to Real Clear Politics. It’s also the first to put Abbott at over 50 percent support since February.
The message in the video is in stark contrast with O’Rourke’s previous statements. It also conflicts with the stated position on his campaign website, which says he doesn’t believe “any civilian should own an AR-15 or AK-47.”
The change in tune from O’Rourke reflects his struggle to straddle the line of appealing to voters in a state famous for its love of guns and getting attention with confrontational acts that emphasize his position well to the left of most Democrats. O’Rourke has repeatedly flip-flopped on guns since his run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. As his polls slumped in that race, he declared he wanted to confiscate the most popular rifles in the country.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said during a September 2019 debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
After announcing his current run for Texas governor, he backtracked on that declaration.
“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” O’Rourke told supporters during a February 2022 campaign stop in Tyler, Texas. “What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”
A few days later, he backtracked his backtrack.
“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.”
Since then, O’Rourke has leaned into gun control. In the wake of the murder of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, O’Rourke has publicly confronted Abbott during a press conference on the massacre. He also recently cursed out a man for laughing at his gun-control proposals during a rally.
Texans are divided on O’Rourke’s proposal to force Americans to turn over their AR-15s in a mandatory buyback, according to the Morning News poll. 52 percent favor confiscation a little bit, a moderate amount, or a great deal. 42 percent say the opposite, though more Texans greatly oppose the idea than greatly support it.
However, the poll also shows a significant dropoff from the 65 percent of respondents who think elected officials aren’t doing enough to address mass shootings. The same is true for the 66 percent who want Abbott to call a special session.
Confiscating AR-15s is 23 percent less popular than restricting their sale to those over 21 years old. It is also five points less popular than allowing teachers to carry in school, which Abbott has supported since 2013.
The Morning News poll was conducted among 1,384 registered voters between August 1st and 7th. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent.
With the inclusion of the new poll, Abbott’s lead is up to 6.8 percent in the Real Clear Politics average. The race’s outcome will provide insight into the politics of guns in America after the pandemic-induced sales spike and the Uvalde massacre.