Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke repeatedly clashed Friday night on issues ranging from immigration to guns in the state’s lone government debate ahead of Election Day.
The hour-long confrontation at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley marked the first time the two candidates had been in the same room since May, when O’Rourke confronted Abbott at a press conference a day after the deadly shooting at a school in Uvalde.
Abbott’s response to that shooting, and his general opposition to arms restrictions, dominated much of the first half of the televised debate, as did the governor’s much-discussed program to ban migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., and other Democrat-run cities. to transport. .
O’Rourke argued that Abbott valued “stunts” over solutions and that his actions and words have led to violence, such as the deadly 2019 shooting targeting Latinos in El Paso.
“This hateful rhetoric, this treating people as political pawns, talking about invasions and Texans defending themselves — that’s how people are getting killed at Walmart in El Paso,” O’Rourke said. “This is incredibly dangerous for Texas and does not reflect our values.”
Abbott accused O’Rourke of wanting to “perpetuate open borders policies and misrepresent what exactly is going on,” while promising that his migrant bus program — which has been impersonated by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — will be continued.
“There will be other cities in the future that will also be on the receiving end of migrants, because we will have to keep moving migrants, because [President] Joe Biden continues to allow more illegal immigrants to enter the state of Texas,” Abbott said.
Abbott is seeking a third straight term in a state dominated by Republicans. After some polls over the summer, O’Rourke found within 5 percentage points of Abbott, more recent studies have shown the governor with leads from 7 to 11 points.
On the fundraising front, O’Rourke turned heads by raising more money than Abbott during the three-month period ended June 30, setting a record in Texas.
A former member of Congress, O’Rourke is aiming for his third office in four years, following a close but unsuccessful Senate bid in 2018 and a short term for president thereafter.
As the two candidates push the issue of gun control, on Friday debate moderators played a 2019 clip of O’Rourke swearing that “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” if they run for president. be chosen. He has since softened his position.
“It’s clear to me that the only place an AR-15 or an AK-47 makes sense is a battlefield,” he said Friday. “But as governor of the state of Texas, I need to focus on what we can do.”
A move O’Rourke prefers: raising the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21. Abbott has opposed these efforts, insisting that federal courts consider such a law unconstitutional.
“We want to end school shootings,” the governor said. “But we can’t do that by making false promises. … Any attempt to raise the age will be rejected and will be reversed.”
The rest of the debate has focused largely on the state’s 2021 grid outage, when millions of residents were left without power for days in sub-zero temperatures. O’Rourke blamed Abbott for the crisis and the higher utility costs, he said.
“And the kicker is, the grid is still not fixed,” said O’Rourke.
Abbott accused O’Rourke of trying to collapse the network again in order to score political points.
“I even guaranteed the power would stay on before we headed into that winter when Beto campaigned and said it would just go out in winter and summer,” Abbott said. “And his campaign hopes were shattered because the laws I signed kept the network safe.”
The debate was also about abortion, an issue that Democrats believe turnout at races across the country will increase this fall after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to the proceedings.
Abbott labeled O’Rourke a proponent of “unlimited abortion at the expense of the taxpayer” — a characterization that O’Rourke disputed, saying he would fight for the same protections he had before the re-reversal. For nearly 50 years, states couldn’t ban abortions until the fetus was viable, or about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
“This election is about reproductive freedom,” O’Rourke said. “If you think this is important, you should vote. I will fight to make sure every woman in Texas can make her own decisions about her own body, her own future and our own health care.”