AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott officially announced Saturday during the Hispanic Leadership Summit that he will run to keep his job as governor of Texas. Several vocal Republicans have already stepped up to challenge him, so has Democrat Beto O’Rourke.
Brian Smith, a professor of political science at St. Edward’s University, expects Abbott and former El Paso Congressman O’Rourke will end up on top of their respective parties, which could make Texas the center of national political attention down the road.
“If things get close, and O’Rourke and Abbott are close like Cruz and O’Rourke were (in their 2018 Senate race), that’s going to get a lot of attention and a lot of outside money,” Smith said. “There would nothing better for the Democrats in terms of boosting their morale than saying we flipped Texas at the governor level.”
Texas has not had a Democratic governor since 1994, when then-gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush ousted incumbent Democratic governor Ann Richards.
Here’s a look at everyone in the race for Gov. Abbott’s job — plus, scroll to the end to test your knowledge of the candidates in an interactive quiz.
Meet the Republicans
This list is the people currently certified by the Secretary of State to appear on the primary ballot, in the order they appear on the state’s website.
Gov. Greg Abbott
The current governor of Texas officially announced Saturday that he will run for re-election. On Monday the governor will launch his statewide media blitz where he plans to appear at 60 campaign events with an objective to raise the turnout in the GOP primary.
During his term, the governor advocated for a stronger southern border, staunchly opposed vaccine and mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead pursuing testing and monoclonal antibody treatment centers, and signed into law one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
A poll published in November by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation found that despite the crowded Republican primary, Gov. Abbott is poised to win the GOP race by a significant margin. The same poll showed that Abbott and O’Rourke are virtually tied among voters.
Meanwhile, the University of Texas and KXAN’s partners at the Texas Tribune found that Abbott leads O’Rourke by a larger margin than that, 9 percentage points, despite only 48% of respondents saying they thought the governor was doing a good job. You can read more about that poll on the Texas Tribune’s website.
A lifelong criminal defense attorney from Wise County in north Texas says he’s running to make “Texas more Texas again.” On Belew’s campaign website, he says he wants to see the state cut ties with the federal government and pursue revenue from other sources, including from the legalization of marijuana and from gambling at casinos.
Belew says he wants to make Texas a destination state again, which he believes has not been the case over the past couple years as a product of the pandemic. His website says Texas needs someone who can “say what’s on their mind.”
Harrison, a north Texas landscape business owner, is running on the platform, “defending Texas first.” As for core issues, Harrison is running on incentives and protections for small businesses, defending Texas property rights, keeping Texas beaches open despite the pandemic and securing the southern border.
Harrison’s campaign website doesn’t pull punches when it comes to how Harrison thinks Gov. Abbott has led the state of Texas.
“Where was Greg Abbott on January 6, 2021? He was hiding from the issues. He was not out there defending the President or democracy. He remained silent. Where was Governor Abbott when the election was stolen from back in November? Again, he was silent,” his campaign website says in part.
Kandy Kaye Horn
Horn, a Houston-area woman who lists her occupation in election filings as a philanthropist, does not appear to have an official campaign website or social media pages.
According to the Baroness Kandy Kaye Horn Foundation’s website, which Horn is listed as chairman and founder of, she attended and graduated from Texas Christian University and received her MBA from UT in Arlington. The foundation is a Christian organization which aims to “improve the world,” according to that website.
Arguably Abbott’s most vocal contender, Huffines has made a lot of noise on social media, during interviews and even during an advertisement which aired during a Dallas Cowboys game. Smith says during this race, the governor isn’t likely to bite back against Huffines, or Allen West, another vocal Republican candidate.
“He goes after them it legitimizes one of those two candidates and turns it from a three-person race into a two-person race,” explained Smith.
During a Sunday night Cowboys game, viewers in Texas saw an ad paid for by the Don Huffines Campaign, where Huffines himself promises a Super Bowl win for the Cowboys if he’s elected governor.
“When I’m your Republican Governor, Texas will stop the illegal invasion at our border. And I’m not asking permission from the federal government. We will put prayer back in our schools, restore our culture, and that Cowboys would get another ring,” Huffines said in the ad.
“The Huffines ad saying the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl was fantastic in terms of getting a lot of attention, but neither of them have the credentials or experience in the Republican party that Greg Abbott does,” Smith said.
It’s Rick Perry, but it’s not the Rick Perry you’re likely thinking of. Rick Lynn Perry, a computer engineer from Springtown, drew eyebrows by throwing his name in the hat.
The Texas Republican Initiative, a political organization that formed last year in response to party infighting, took to Twitter to imply Perry’s campaign is a political trick from detractors of Abbott.
“The Abbott Derangement Syndrome crowd has spent many months and millions of dollars making bogus attacks against Governor @GregAbbott_TX and has gotten absolutely nowhere,” the group’s tweet read. “Now, out of desperation, they’re resorting to gamesmanship in a pathetic attempt to confuse voters.”
Prather, a conservative YouTube talk show host, lists his top issues as election integrity, human trafficking, and right to life among other issues listed on Prather’s official campaign website.
Prather has been outspoken about the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and says on his website that “we can’t kill an economy over a virus with a 99% survival rate.” He also addressed his lack of political experience on his website.
“Do you know that I pastored three churches? Do you know that I spent over a decade in third world countries doing mission, humanitarian, and medical work? Do you know that I was an executive with a Fortune 300 company?…
I could continue but I think you get the point. For a guy that’s never done anything and has no experience…I’ve done a few things.”
West, another top Republican contender to Abbott’s seat, said in his campaign announcement that even though he hasn’t held a political seat for around a decade he “can no longer sit on the sidelines and see what has happened in these United States of America and…the place that I call home.”
West’s campaign launch came about a month after he announced his resignation as state party chairman, a position where West regularly criticized Abbott’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his unwillingness to push the state’s legislative agenda further to the right.
Abbott has mostly ignored West’s attacks, though Smith says Abbott has appeared to cater more to his right flanks over the past few months.
“They’ll [West and Huffines] be interesting and they might open up some avenues of attack for O’Rourke, but I don’t see either of them being able to take it to a runoff or beating Greg Abbott head-to-head right now,” Smith said.
Meet the Democrats
Again, this list is the people currently certified by the Secretary of State to appear on the primary ballot, in the order they appear on the state’s website.
Inocencio (Inno) Barrientez
Aside from being listed as a candidate on the Texas Secretary of State website, and being named in a Texas Democratic Party candidate congratulations news release, Barrientez does not appear to have an official campaign website or official social media channels.
The Beaumont native, pastor and father of seven is running on education, climate change, and criminal justice reform, among other platforms listed on Cooper’s official campaign website.
In his campaign announcement, Cooper talked about helping teachers, making their profession a calling again and said education was his top priority.
Cooper, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has been an automobile executive for decades, according to his website. Cooper is also the chapter president for his local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Cooper has run as a democrat in other high-level races in Texas including previous runs for the senate and for Lieutenant Governor.
In former public radio journalist Joy Diaz’ announcement video, she said there are three issues that would be top of mind for her campaign: the border, public education and state preparedness.
“Our current leadership has forgotten that their mission is to serve us,” she said in her video announcement. “Yes, conventional wisdom may say that it’s unlikely for an average person — even a qualified one, even one with expertise, even one with a huge heart — to become the next governor of this great state, but Texans don’t solely rely on conventional wisdom. We believe in miracles.”
Diaz’s voice may sound familiar to many Texans since she worked for KUT in Austin and would often guest host the statewide “Texas Standard” radio news program. The public radio station announced in November that Diaz would leave to run for public office, but at that time she did not disclose which position she would seek.
Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke officially announced his bid for governor in November. He is the only major Democrat with political experience to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.
O’Rourke previously came within two percentage points of the incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. He then jumped into the crowded Democratic presidential primary in March 2019, before suspending his campaign eight months later.
“What Beto O’Rourke needs to do is try to reassemble some of that 2018 coalition that almost defeated Ted Cruz. So that means going after younger voters, going after people with more education, going after the big cities,” Smith said. He also said O’Rourke will need to swing independents if he wants to beat Abbott.
“He’s got to find new voters and convince people that Governor Abbott isn’t right for Texas.”
O’Rourke sat down with Nexstar’s Maggie Glynn for his first TV interview to discuss his bid. You can find the full transcript here.
Wakeland’s campaign website, which is under development in some areas as of Monday, touts him as “a conservative democrat for Governor of Texas.” Wakeland is a retired navy reserve captain, a registered professional engineer in Texas and a licensed attorney, according to the site. He also served as the policy adviser to Texas Public Utility Commissioner Ken Anderson from 2013-2018.
His website outlines goals to “invest in Texas and focus on the middle class,” including promoting reliable electric power while also supporting Texas oil and gas, growing the high tech industry and protecting farmers and ranchers from drought.
Wakeland was named in a Texas Democratic Party candidate congratulations news release about those running for governor.
How well do you know the candidates?
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