Gov. Greg Abbott’s political machine spends big against Central Texas Democrats

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign, the most well-funded political operation in the state, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in competitive Central Texas races as Republicans fight to hold onto a majority in the state House.

Abbott’s campaign spent more money in two Austin-area state House races—districts 45 and 47—than any others over the past month, according to a list compiled by the Texas Tribune.

Reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission for the period of Sept. 25-Oct. 24 show Abbott’s campaign spent $122,463 in support of Republican Justin Berry, an Austin police officer challenging incumbent Democrat Vikki Goodwin in House District 47.

Abbott’s campaign spent $119,603 supporting Republican Carrie Isaac, who faces incumbent Democrat Erin Zwiener in House District 45, over the same time.

In total, Dave Carney, Abbott’s chief campaign strategist, said the campaign will invest around $6 million in state House races in the 2020 cycle.

“I think there’s a chance we win both of those seats,” Carney told KXAN. “We have excellent candidates. They both give voters a real choice between the progressive agenda and the bread and butter issues that affect people at the kitchen tables.”

Democrats need to flip nine seats in the Texas House to assume a majority, giving them a pivotal role in redrawing the state’s congressional districts during the next legislative session. Both Goodwin and Zwiener were among 12 Democrats who flipped Republican seats in 2018 and are now targets of state Republicans.

Jim Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project, said the move by Abbott’s campaign to spend resources in Central Texas could be political posturing, but his team could also be seeing promising district-level data.

He said Abbott’s campaign, which reported $37.7 million dollars in the bank in its last filing, has plenty of money to spend.

“The governor is a prodigious fundraiser and is continually setting records for fundraising by a governor,” Henson said. “For him, it is money well spent whether his probability of making a difference is high or low. It makes a difference for Republicans to know that he was willing to do it.”

Berry, who works for the Austin Police Department, is a natural fit for Abbott’s support. Abbott has spent the months since police brutality protests erupted in Texas’ largest cities to call for law and order and support for law enforcement.

“I think it sends a positive message to our community that we want elected officials that are focused on keeping our communities safe,” Berry said. “It’s a huge honor that someone like Governor Greg Abbott looks at me as a candidate and believed that I’m a person that has the ability to bring those solutions to the table.”

In House District 45, Isaac has knocked on more than 7,000 doors this cycle, which her campaign consultant Jordan Berry believes will make a monumental difference in the race.

According to her most recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, nearly $1 million was spent on her behalf over the past month.

“I think that’s just good strategy,” Berry said of Abbott’s support of Isaac’s campaign. “All of the indicators show that Carrie is going to win.”

Beto O’Rourke won by a 10-point margin in House Districts 45 and 47. Keir Murray, communications director for the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said he is confident record voter turnout will benefit both incumbent Democrats.

Zwiener won in House District 45 by three percentage points in 2018. Goodwin won in House District 47 by just under five points.

“It’s a high-stakes game, we know that but we feel very good about our candidates having the resources they need to compete down the stretch and we think they’re carrying the right message for Texans that it’s time for a change in the Texas House,” Murray said.

Early voting continues through Oct. 30 in Texas. Election Day is Nov. 3.

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