Who will challenge Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022? An early look at the race in Texas

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Don Huffines – a Dallas real estate developer and former state senator – was the first Republican to announce a primary election challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, a campaign he launched to harness grassroots opposition to Abbott’s pandemic restrictions.

And while Huffines is Abbott’s only official competition, the governor’s right-flank could soon become more crowded.

“Essentially, he’s a political windsock,” Huffines said in an interview with KXAN. “I don’t need a new job. I’m only doing this because the job is not getting done.”

Huffines said his campaign will focus on three key points: eliminating property taxes, securing elections and finishing the wall along Texas’ southern border with Mexico. As governor, Huffines said he would have called lawmakers back to Austin to develop a plan for the coronavirus pandemic, instead of taking a unilateral approach, as Abbott did.

“I believe in the separation of power, and I believe a strong courageous leader in the Governor’s Mansion would have worked with the legislature,” he said.

Texas GOP chairman Allen West, right, speaks to supporters of President Donald Trump during a rally in front of City Hall in Dallas, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Texas GOP Chair Allen West – who announced he would resign from his position as the head of the state party on July 11 – and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller have said they are considering a run for governor. The pair staged a protest outside the Governor’s Mansion in Austin last October to criticize Abbott’s response to the pandemic.

Craig Goodman, a political science professor at the University of Houston-Victoria, said the group could present challenges for Abbott’s re-election campaign.

“The Republican grassroots is unhappy – there’s a lot of energy out there – so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a walk in the park (for Abbott),” Goodman told KXAN. “Anything that forces this to a runoff, that’s where it starts getting dangerous for incumbents.”

Any Republican challenger to Abbott must overcome the all-important endorsement he received from former Pres. Donald Trump, who remains a force in primary elections in Texas and around the country.

Soon after Abbott announced the endorsement last week, Huffines emailed supporters that he is, in fact, the “Trump candidate” in the race.

“Trump’s endorsement doesn’t change the facts of the situation, and the facts are this is a failed administration, and Texans are very smart and they can see that,” Huffines said.

In an interview with KXAS in Dallas Monday, Abbott said he’s not worried about his official or perceived competition. His focus remains on the 1,000 bills he must sign or veto from the legislative session.

“We continue our work until that time period expires on June 20th, and then we’ll turn toward politics,” Abbott said.

For Democrats, the bench of potential candidates is thin, as former congressman Beto O’Rourke mulls his next steps.

O’Rourke told KXAN ahead of the launch of a statewide voting rights tour last week that he won’t make a decision about whether to seek public office in 2022 until after proposed election restrictions in Texas are defeated or trumped by federal voting rights legislation.

Former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke speaks against new proposed voting restrictions at the Texas Capitol on Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Acacia Coronado)

“The most important fight in front of me, and in front of all of us in my opinion, is this fight for voting rights and this fight to make sure there’s a democracy going forward,” O’Rourke said. “As long as that’s in front of me, that’s going to remain my singular focus.”

Whoever takes on Abbott – either in the primary or general elections – faces the most well-funded political machine in Texas. As of January, the political action committee Texans for Abbott had nearly $38 million cash on hand.

“We’re going to put in millions of dollars,” Huffines said. “We’re going to be well-funded in this campaign. We’re going to compete, and we’re going to give Republican primary voters in Texas something they’ve never had before – and that is an opportunity to vote for a real conservative leader in a Republican primary.”

For months, actor Matthew McConaughey has fueled speculation he will run for governor in Texas, though his political stances remain unclear.

“It’s something I’m trying to look in the eye and give honest consideration,” he said on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show. “What an awesome privilege, an awesome responsibility, awesome position of sacrifice and service.”

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