AUSTIN — Three things are needed for a successful campaign: money, messaging and a good messenger.
In challenging an incumbent Republican in a red state, Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke had the money — outraising Abbott three reporting periods in a row and keeping up financially with what started as a disadvantage. O’Rourke was also likely the best messenger with well established name recognition.
But O'Rourke's messaging was “a kitchen sink from day one,” said Dave Carney, a senior campaign adviser for Texans for Greg Abbott.
“(Abbott’s campaign) stuck to the four core issues that are on people's minds: the border, jobs/economy, energy and crime/law enforcement,” Carney added. “As Beto was just going negative the whole time, we were talking about jobs, the economy, we're talking about law enforcement, funding the police, (and) talking about the border; all the issues that really matter to people.”
Abbott won his third bid for Texas governor Tuesday night, securing about 55% of the vote to O’Rourke’s 43%.
Carney and Gardner Pate, campaign chairman for Texans for Greg Abbott, offered insight Wednesday morning into why they believe they were successful in keeping Texas a red state.
At the forefront was frequent messaging on top voter concerns, as well as an extensive and expensive media blitz to keep that message top of mind.
According to a poll by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, about 60% of voters ranked inflation, immigration and the border, and the economy as the top issues impacting their vote. These issues leaned heavily in Abbott’s, and Republican, favor as they constantly tied these issues and struggles to Washington leadership and President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
“We focused our campaign on talking to voters about what they care about,” Pate said, adding that the “whole crux” of the campaign was to highlight where Abbott stood on those issues and how it juxtaposed with O’Rourke.
While the Republican push in the Rio Grande Valley, a historically blue part of the state, did not turnout as dramatically as they hoped — U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, who won the vacated congressional seat in a special election in June encouraging Republicans of a future sweeping “red wave” in South Texas, lost Tuesday night — they still won in South Texas counties by larger margins than they have in the past.
Additionally, one of the three contested congressional South Texas races, District 15, turned red with a Monica De La Cruz win, the first Republican to do so. It was also a race that was helped by redistricting.
Even though Carney deemed the election a success for Texas Republicans, there are some lessons learned. In addition to continued efforts in border counties, state Republicans have some work to do in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas where they also did not perform as strongly as they had hoped, he said.
“This isn’t just a one-and-done thing. We have a lot of work to do to continue to build a bench of candidates and build the party infrastructure down in southern Texas and we plan to do that,” Carney said. “We also plan to do more work in suburban counties to keep our margins high or higher than they are right now.”
Overall turnout was low but not in the counties that mattered to Republicans. Complete turnout data was not yet available early Wednesday, but the early voting turnout rate was about 31%. In 2018, the total voter turnout rate was 46.3%, an 18-point jump from the midterm before.
Carney added that 86 counties, about one-third of the state, reported a higher turnout this midterm election than they did in 2018. On Tuesday, Abbott received the most votes he had as a gubernatorial candidate, including the most votes ever in 120 counties. This in turn helped down ballot candidates.
“We feel really good about the effort in the valley and in southern Texas; we had unbelievable success,” Carney said. “And success isn’t always winning, but we actually had a race. Dozens of county officials got elected last night in a range of counties that never had elected Republicans or have never had a choice in most cases.”
O’Rourke’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the analysis but Texas Democrats Communications Director Ike Hajinazarian said in a series of Tweets Wednesday that the results of Texas Democrats winning competitive races, particularly in south Texas, did not “materialize overnight.”
“We knew this election could be a national repudiation of GOP extremism – and we as Texas Democrats knew the part we had to play,” he said. “We carried our weight – despite all the pundits telling us feverishly for years how Republicans were taking over south Texas.”
He added: “We know we have work to do in South Texas. We know our work is cut out for us in the coming cycles. But the reality is that despite literally redrawing a district to be Republican (and whiter and less Hispanic), and spending tens of millions of (dollars)), the GOP completely flunked.”