FORT WORTH, Texas — Democrat Beto O’Rourke may have outperformed Republican Greg Abbott in Fridays gubernatorial debate, but it’s unlikely to be enough to cause major changes in the race’s final weeks, experts say.
Early in the debate, moderators’ began with the topic of immigration, Abbott hit the Biden administration for its border policy and sought to connect O'Rourke to the Democratic president. Abbott touted Texas’ response, including the busing of migrants to other parts of the state.
“What we’re doing is making sure that we are keeping our communities safe, and this is completely different than the way things would be under Beto,” Abbott said.
O’Rourke fought back: “What we just heard from the governor is what we’ll likely hear over the course of this debate,” O’Rourke said. “He’s going to blame people like President Biden. He’s going to lie about my record, and he’s going to distract from his failures.”
Friday’s debate at the Edinburg campus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is expected to be the sole debate between Abbott and O’Rourke ahead of the Nov. 8 election. O’Rourke has agreed to several town-hall style debates where voters can ask questions, but Abbott’s campaign said Friday’s debate would be the “first and only.”
Polling has consistently had Abbott ahead of O’Rourke in a state where it’s been years since a Democrat was elected statewide. But the margin has been in the single digits, with a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday putting O’Rourke 7 points behind Abbott.
Immigration and border security was found to be the top issue among Texas voters in a poll by the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin. It’s an issue that’s been central to Abbott’s campaign thus far. Following it in importance to voters were the economy, abortion and gun violence. The later two policy areas have been focuses for O’Rourke.
“Overall, O’Rourke performed well, and made multiple convincing points and at times had Abbott on the defensive, but nothing happened in this debate that is likely to move the dial in the race, which remains headed on course toward a Abbott victory, with the only question being if Abbott’s margin victory will be in the mid-single digits or mid-teens,” University of Houston Political Science Professor Mark Jones said in an email.
Leading up to the debate
The campaigns’ debate-day strategies previewed what was to come later in the evening.