Texas Republicans to look for help from Abbott in 2020


Editor’s note: This Thursday we’re hosting a town hall with Gov. Greg Abbott. Ahead of that, we’ll roll out a series of stories to provide viewers with more context on his campaign promises, legislative priorities and his role in the Texas Republican Party.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott will participate in a live town hall event hosted in Tyler, coming to the city when his role in the Republican party of Texas has never been larger.

With scandals and close elections among his peers, he stands atop a historic campaign arsenal of money and people.

Gov. Greg Abbott has had to adjust to a changing Texas. According to the 2018 election, he’s done it better than other Republicans. He defeated his Democratic opponent, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, by 13 points. Sen. Ted Cruz squeaked into his second term by less than three points. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton — other statewide Republicans — won by less than 5 points.

One key difference, according to longtime politicians: Abbott tends to avoid the cultural and partisan battles waged by other top Republicans.

During a statewide debate against Valdez last fall, Abbott was asked if he supported the bathroom privacy bill pushed by Lt. Governor Patrick in 2017.

Abbott responded, “It is not on my agenda.”

“Abbott has been reliably conservative but he picks the right battles for the state. He has not gotten sidetracked in some of the more controversial social and other issues that have been very divisive. He’s really focused on bread and butter: job creation,” longtime political advisor Ray Sullivan said.

‘Backbone of the Republican Party’

Sullivan says Abbott and his team are the backbone of the Republican Party in the state. Abbott’s campaign can hire more than 125 full-time field staff and runs a digital app that other Republicans can use. He’s also the most prolific fundraiser in state history, raising $26 million more than three years out from re-election.

“Every Republican up and down the ballot really relies on him to put the campaign organization in place for the whole party,” Sullivan said.

While Abbott is not running for re-election, the entire Texas House is. The state hasn’t had divided government in nearly 20 years. If Abbott wants to have more friends than foes in the House, he’ll have to use his vast campaign arsenal to prop up Republican candidates in 2020.

Republicans’ internal conflict

Meanwhile, Texas House Republicans have their own struggles to deal with: internal conflict of their Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The Texas Rangers are investigating a meeting between Bonnen and political non-profit leader, Michael Sullivan from Empower Texans. They met in June. Sullivan accuses Bonnen of offering a backroom deal: press access to lawmakers on the House floor in exchange for campaign work against Bonnen’s rivals. Sullivan says he recorded the entire thing. Bonnen has denied Sullivan’s charges.

Bonnen’s goal has been to have a Republican majority in the Texas House, and he expected to spend time supporting his Republican colleagues during the election. Instead, he’s focused on staying speaker amid calls for his resignation. Now, Gov. Abbott will have to provide more support for vulnerable Texas Republicans up for re-election.

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