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Poll Shows O’Rourke Ties Abbott in Hypothetical Race for Texas Gov. Next Year

Beto O’Rourke has yet to declare his candidacy, but it’s widely expected he’ll be running for governor next year.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke walks through a crowd at the Texas state Capitol on June 20, 2021.

New polling from Texas demonstrates that former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke is polling evenly with current Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — meaning that the results of the gubernatorial race may be closer than originally predicted.

O’Rourke, who also ran for president in 2020, has not yet formally entered the governor’s race. But it’s widely speculated he will throw his hat into the ring sometime in the near future, potentially unseating Abbott, who is midway through his second term in office.

A survey conducted by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation found that, among voters who took part in the 2020 election, 44 percent would vote for Abbott in 2022 while 43 percent would vote for O’Rourke. Among registered voters overall, the numbers are similar: 43 percent prefer Abbott, while 42 percent back O’Rourke.

Those numbers are considered a statistical tie between the two candidates, as the poll has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.

O’Rourke’s numbers are buoyed by support he is receiving from Latino residents, the poll said. Among Latino voters, O’Rourke has an 18-point lead over Abbott.

Actor Matthew McConaughey has also signaled that he’s thinking about running for governor of Texas next year. However, McConaughey didn’t do well in polling, garnering just 9 percent of voters in the poll who said they voted in 2020, compared to Abbott, who received 41 percent support, and O’Rourke, who got 39 percent, when all three are polled against each other.

Mark Jones, a professor who heads the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, which assisted in conducting the poll with the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, said the numbers demonstrate that McConaughey may not be a serious contender in the race.

“Matthew McConaughey is a very popular actor, but his popularity is not turning into support at the ballot box in this survey,” Jones said.

Polling this close can sometimes be deceiving. In the summer of 2018, when O’Rourke was running for senator in Texas against current Sen. Ted Cruz (R), an Emerson College poll found that the two were in a statistical tie; Cruz then went on to win the race by 2.6 percentage points.

Still, O’Rourke’s numbers are likely causing Abbott’s campaign team to panic somewhat, especially considering how they’ve shifted in the past few months alone. In July, O’Rourke was losing to Abbott by 12 points in a hypothetical matchup. A poll in September saw that gap tighten, with Abbott ahead by just five points.

The polling numbers from this recent survey seem to align with the idea that Texas is no longer the solidly “red” state that it once was. Indeed, in last year’s presidential race, former President Donald Trump, a Republican, only defeated President Joe Biden by a margin of less than six points — the smallest gap between a Republican and Democratic president in the state since 1996. Other polls show Texans are warming up to progressive ideas, including on the climate crisis, where a Data for Progress poll found that nearly 3 in 5 voters (59 percent) backed the idea of transitioning away from fossil fuels in favor of more sustainable options.

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