It looks like Texas voters will get a chance to decide how the politics of gun confiscation plays in a statewide election.
Texas Democrats have officially made Beto O’Rourke their nominee for governor as they hope to unseat incumbent Greg Abbott (R.) this November. In landslide fashion, Texas Democratic primary voters swung for O’Rourke with more than 90 percent of the vote as of Tuesday night, besting lesser-known challengers Joy Diaz and Michael Cooper.
“Thank you, Texas!” O’Rourke tweeted following his primary victory. “We are going to win this race with one another, for one another.”
O’Rourke’s securing of the Democratic nomination comes after a primary season that saw no serious competition that could match his name ID and fundraising ability. A narrow loss in an attempt to unseat Senator Ted Cruz (R.) in 2018 significantly raised his political profile nationwide, but that added momentum proved to be insufficient as he made an ill-fated attempt for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019. He now has another opportunity to seek office in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to a statewide position in nearly 30 years.
His infamous calls for gun confiscation during the presidential primaries have plagued his current campaign for Governor, however, and present a serious challenge for O’Rourke in the general election.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said in a September 2019 Democratic primary debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
He has since waffled on his stance multiple times as he has tried to navigate the more gun-friendly environment of Texas politics. At a campaign stop in Tyler, Texas, on February 8th, 2022 he attempted to rebuke his past comments on gun confiscation.
“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” O’Rourke said. “What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”
However, he later declared that he still supports the policy. He just no longer thinks it is a priority for his candidacy.
“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,” O’Rourke told The New York Times last month. “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.”
Greg Abbott, facing a crowded field of Republican primary challengers, also secured his party’s nomination Tuesday night with 68 percent of the vote. He is seeking his third term in the Texas Governor’s mansion. Statewide polling has consistently shown O’Rourke trailing Abbott since he launched his campaign last November.
Abbott leads O’Rourke by 10 points in the most recent poll from the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin, and Real Clear Politics shows him with a similar lead across an average of polls.
Polls have also shown gun policy presents a significant challenge for O’Rourke compared to Abbott. A December Quinnipiac University poll found Texas voters prefer Abbott to O’Rourke on gun policy by a margin of 60-33. The University of Texas-Austin poll also found support for stricter gun laws at a 7-year low among the Texas electorate, a phenomenon that reflects broader national trends.
The General election is November 8, 2022.