O’Rourke bets shooting will shake up Texas governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks to the press after being expelled for interrupting a press conference led by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Dario Lopez-Mills/AP

Still grieving over a mass shooting in Texas, Democrat Beto O’Rourke shook up his long campaign by imploring a national audience that it was finally time for real action to curb the proliferation of high-powered firearms in his home state and across America.

It was 2019, and the former congressman was running for president when he said during a debate, “Damn, yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15,” weeks after a gunman targeting Mexican immigrants killed 23 people at a Wal-Mart. in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.

Last week, following the massacre of 19 elementary school students and two teachers by an 18-year-old man armed with an AR-15 rifle in Uvalde, Texas, O’Rourke – currently campaigning for the post governor – again briefly grabbed the national political spotlight. This time it meant crashing the press conference of the man he wanted to overthrow, Republican Greg Abbott, and declaring – in a moment that was later widely shared online – that the carnage was “on you”.

O’Rourke is betting tragedy can reset the gubernatorial race in America’s biggest red state – despite Abbott winning the election twice by landslides and starting the campaign with $55million in the bank and despite the gun culture that looms larger in Texas than perhaps anywhere else.

That didn’t work in 2019. O’Rourke’s debate statement earned him praise from other Democrats on stage and a boost in fundraising. But he dropped out of the race just six weeks later.

It’s too early to tell what will happen in the gubernatorial race, but the shooting has already affected both sides. Abbott canceled his scheduled visit to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting to stay in Uvalde. Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who is among those negotiating with fellow Democrats on tougher background checks and “red flag” laws allowing authorities to remove guns from those deemed dangerous for themselves or for others, has also taken the plunge.

“I think that felt cathartic to a lot of people who might have been on the fence,” said Abel Prado, executive director of Democrat advocacy group Cambio Texas. “It gives you, ‘At least someone is trying to get up and do something, or at least say something.'”

O’Rourke spent two nights in Uvalde after the shooting, then headed to Houston for an anti-gun violence rally outside of Friday’s NRA meeting.

“To those men and women in positions of power who care more about your power than using that power to save the lives of those you are meant to serve…we will defeat you and we will defeat you”, O’Rourke told the demonstrators who chanted his name and the phrase “Vote them!

Supporters hope O’Rourke will recapture the magic that saw him become a Democratic national star and nearly upset Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. But since then O’Rourke’s bid for the White House has failed , former President Donald Trump easily won Texas in 2020 and Democrats who had hoped to flip dozens of congressional and legislature seats in the state that year, lost nearly every top race.

A Democrat has also not won the governorship of Texas since 1990, and last year the state eased gun restrictions enough to allow virtually all residents 21 and older to carry weapons without a license. Abbott signed the law alongside NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and group chairwoman Carolyn Meadows.

Of course, the dominance of guns in Texas culture long predates the law. Abbott once tweeted his embarrassment over California lagging on gun sales, and Cruz likes to say, “Give me a horse, a gun, and an open plain, and we can take over the world.” . Former Republican Governor Rick Perry won re-election in 2010 after using a laser-aiming handgun to kill a coyote while jogging.

Mass shootings aren’t new to Texas either. Tuesday’s massacre in Uvalde and the El Paso killings followed a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston that killed eight students and two teachers in 2018, and a church rampage in Sutherland Springs which claimed 26 lives, including an unborn child, the year before.

Former Texas Lands Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican long famous for carrying multiple guns almost everywhere he went, said O’Rourke’s most ardent supporters will be “even more determined to vote for Beto after his confrontation with Abbott.

Still, Patterson said the matchup could backfire, alienating otherwise potentially sympathetic swing voters who might think O’Rourke was hosting a self-serving show.

“Sometimes your method overwhelms your message, and his method has drained any benefit he might have had from it,” said Patterson, who as a state senator drafted the original 1995 Texas law on concealed handguns allowing Texans to take guns to more places than almost anywhere in the world. America at the time. “I think it’s a net loss.”

Abbott hasn’t mentioned O’Rourke much since the shooting, but answered questions about possible new state gun limits by slamming high crime rates in mostly Democratic-run cities.

“There are more people gunned down every weekend in Chicago than there are in Texas schools,” the governor said hyperbolically. Speaking about arguments that new gun restrictions could make Americans safer, “Chicago, LA and New York refute that thesis.”

Abbott’s campaign has also previously chastised O’Rourke for his previous stance on guns, producing an online ad last year showing a cartoon of O’Rourke speeding in the wrong direction down a one-way street. single, then off a cliff as the radio played clips of his “Hell yes” comment and other strongly progressive positions he took as a presidential candidate.

O’Rourke’s campaign insists he is not using the massacre for political gain. He turned his fundraising device into one accepting donations for relatives of those killed in Uvalde, and says O’Rourke attended Abbott’s press conference at the urging of one of the families. the victims.

He sat quietly in the audience for more than 10 minutes, intending only to listen, the campaign said. But, when Abbott said “there was no meaningful warning of this crime” other than the shooter posting about the shooting moments before he started doing it, O’Rourke sat down. angry – especially since after the shooting in El Paso, the head of state’s response was to relax gun laws. He approached the scene and accused Abbott of “doing nothing” when Uvalde’s violence was “totally predictable”.

Also on stage, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin responded with an obscenity and called O’Rourke “sick” for trying to make the shooting “a political issue”.

But it nevertheless helped a Texan to change her mind. Nicole Armijo, who works in the family business of HVAC in the border town of McAllen and has three children, ages 10, 9 and 6, who attend public school. She didn’t vote for O’Rourke when he ran for the Senate, but plans to do so now because “the way we do things doesn’t work.”

“Maybe in Texas it’s not just about having a gun,” said Armijo, who said she loves guns and hunting, but would be supportive. to a thorough background check. a set.”


More about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.


This story has been corrected to show that Abbott won election, not re-election, twice by landslides.

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