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Abbot Vs. O’Rourke: A Lonely Debate


Greg Abbot, the current Texas governor held a debate (apparently the only debate he is willing to have prior to the upcoming election) with opponent Beto O’Rourke on Friday. 


Despite mounting pressure, this is, at the time of writing, the only debate Governor Abbott has agreed to. 


Ahead of the debate, O'Rourke accused Abbott of making it to where the live audience aspect of the debate would not occur; however, Abbott's campaign told the Houston Chronicle that the debate conditions of no audience had been agreed upon beforehand.


The debate included comments on abortion rights, guns, and immigration policies. These are some of the biggest issues for the state. 


Abbott and O’Rourke have not “squared off” since the day after the shooting in Uvalde Texas which left 21 people dead, including 19 children. 


At a press conference regarding the shooting on May 25, 2022, O’Rourke famously confronted Greg Abbott saying “You are doing nothing… You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything”


In response to this, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin stated, “I can’t believe that you’re a sick son of a ***** that would come to a deal like this to make a political issue.”


During the scheduled one-hour debate, Governor Abbott was asked about his comments at that press conference the day after the shooting. In those comments, he said {the shooting} "could have been worse," and he praised the law enforcement response. 


Since those comments, leaked video from the shooting has shown that officers waited in the hallway of the school for over 70 minutes to enter, and, at times, the screams of children could be heard.

Since making those comments the day after the shooting, Abbot stated, “What that comment was based upon was information by law enforcement about all the children in all the other classrooms that they evacuated during the time the shooter was on the campus… what they did not tell me at the time, however, was that there were dozens, if not more, of other law enforcement that were hanging around in the hallway for over an hour without engaging in the Columbine protocol, and going in and immediately removing that shooter, which is what they were supposed to do. And because they failed to do that, there does need to be accountability, not just for Pete Arredondo but also for local law enforcement." 


O’Rourke believes that this is not enough, stating that there needs to be accountability for Abbott, and has called for him to convene a special session of the state legislature to enact stricter gun laws. 


Abbott has said those laws would be challenged in court as unconstitutional. 


In response to these comments, O’Rourke stated, “Those families I was just with from Uvalde want us to take action, this is the common ground. I've listened to Republicans and Democrats alike on this – we can agree on this much: Raise the age to 21, red flag law and universal background check." 


The debate on Friday was hosted by Nexstar and held at The University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. This is a crucial region for both candidates. 


There was no audience in attendance.


Considering the location of the debate, it is not surprising that the first question of the debate regarded immigration. 


Abbott has at various points attempted to downplay the role of immigration in the upcoming election due to his and Micheal Desantis’ role in busing immigrants to New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. The busing scheme has drawn national criticism, predominantly from Democrats. 


Abbott meanwhile defended the program, saying that New York City Mayor Eric Adams never reached out to his office, although Adams has said that he has. O'Rourke called the busing program a "political stunt." 


Additionally, O’Rourke criticized what is called “Operation Lone Star” which involved deploying the National Guard to patrol the Texas and Mexico border and has cost the state $4 billion so far. 


Abbott touted the program, although he said that, ideally, he would spend "zero dollars" on Operation Lone Star, and blamed President Joe Biden's immigration policies on its cost. 


In terms of abortion rights, Abbott stated that the state would provide Plan B for victims of rape or incest, which he doubled down on Friday night, saying Plan B should be "readily available" for them. 


This however was critiqued by advocates who told the Texas Tribune earlier in September that Plan B often isn't widely available for all communities, specifically poorer communities. 


O'Rourke said Friday that this election is a referendum on "reproductive freedom," and he told Texans "if you care about that, you need to come out and vote." According to a Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation/KVUE poll, 52% of likely voters said they would change Texas' abortion laws to make the procedure more accessible.


Abbott has stated that since taking office, his stance on abortion rights have not changed and that he personally has never supported abortion. 


Abbott said, “Let's look at the issues you brought up… and that is as, for one, as a Catholic, my wife and I have been pro-life our entire lives. So much so, that it became even stronger when we adopted our daughter. On the day she was born, I was the very first person to hold her after she was born. And I've seen firsthand the power that adoption can have."


O'Rourke was asked about his recent unsuccessful runs for Senate in 2018 against Senator Ted Cruz, his run for president in 2020, and whether he is running out of a call for public service or personal ambition. 


O'Rourke stated that it's an "honor" to "have the opportunity to serve others."


Prior to the debate, a focus group told Nexstar that 40% supported Abbott, 27% backed O'Rourke, and 33% were undecided. After the debate, 50% supported O'Rourke, 43% supported Abbott, and 7% were undecided. 



Recent polls for the election have Abbot maintaining his lead over O’Rourke with about 7 points. This race will likely be the closest in Abbott's career as governor; Abbott won in 2014 by over 20 points, and in 2018 by over 13 points.

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