DALLAS — Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Friday that he is not planning to challenge Greg Abbott for Texas governor.
“I’ve got no plans to run, and I’m very focused on the things that I’m lucky enough to do right now — organizing, registering voters and teaching,” the El Paso Democrat for an upcoming segment on Lone Star Politics. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing now.”
Many Democrats are counting on O’Rourke, who in 2018 lost to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by 2.6 percentage points, to be the party’s standard bearer against Abbott in 2022. After consulting some elected Democrats, O’Rourke had said he was considering running for governor, but added he would work to elect any Democrat that emerged against Abbott.
But O’Rourke says he’s content with his work in mobilizing voters through his PAC called Powered by People. And he teaches classes at the University of Texas and Texas State University.
The former presidential candidate has also been trying to stop bills in the Republican-controlled Legislature that he says are designed to suppress voting.
“I drove out to the Capitol, eight and a half hour drive, waited 15 hours to be able to testify,” O’Rourke said, adding that he enjoys working with Texas civil rights groups. “That’s the work that is most important right now and I don’t want to distract from it by talking about a campaign or running for office. I want to do what’s before us ... this work to protect our democracy.”
After this story about O’Rourke’s comments was published, the Democrat told The Dallas Morning News that he had not ruled out a rule against Abbott.
“What I said today is what I’ve been saying for months: I’m not currently considering a run for office,” O’Rourke said in a prepared statement. “I’m focused on what I’m doing now (teaching and organizing). Nothing’s changed and nothing I said would preclude me from considering a run in the future.”
If O’Rourke remains out of the race for governor, Democrats will have to field a candidate against a well-known, two-term incumbent with a stout political organization and the ability to raise tens of millions of dollars.
That’s why Democrats have been pressing O’Rourke, who raised $80 million in his contest against Cruz, to be their champion against Abbott.
On the Lone Star Politics Podcast, a joint effort between The Dallas Morning News and KXAS (NBC-5), O’Rourke said that Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo would be strong candidates against Abbott.
“How about a Democrat like Clay Jenkins, the county judge of Dallas County, who has, in contrast, absolutely distinguished himself in the professionalism with which he’s met both the pandemic and the rollout of the vaccine?” O’Rourke asked. “How about somebody like Lina Hidalgo, the county judge in Harris County, who has disregarded the polls and the conventional wisdom and instead followed the best public health advice and science and guidance from medical practitioners?”
Jenkins, who has clashed with Abbott over pandemic issues, said he’s focusing on defeating COVID-19 and getting Dallas County through the coronavirus crisis.
But there have been rumblings in Democratic Party circles about a movement to draft Jenkins.
Hidalgo is considered a rising star on the Texas political scene. A statewide or high profile race is likely in her future, but running against Abbott in 2022 may be too soon.
O’Rourke suggested that his absence from the 2022 ballot would not hinder Democrats from toppling Abbott, adding that the party should make “competence” a central theme in the 2022 elections. He said Abbott’s handling of the winter storm that left millions without power and caused the deaths of more than 100 Texans was an example of incompetent GOP leadership.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa hopes O’Rourke would run against Abbott.
“It’s very hard for us to recruit candidates right now, when you have somebody looking like he’s going to run,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said last month. “Right now we’re just taking a wait and see attitude on this thing.”
O’Rourke said Democrats will find a good candidate.
“We have no shortage of talent and no shortage of challenges that we have in this state because of Greg Abbott’s failed leadership that we can correct with competent leaders moving forward,” he said. “There’s more than enough for a candidate to run on, and more than enough qualified Democratic prospective candidates to do that job. I feel very good about our prospects in 2022.”