Beto vs Abbott: Primary voting just starting, but observers looking ahead to fall matchup

Voting is just beginning in the Democratic and Republican primaries, but political observers are already looking ahead to a fall matchup between Beto O’Rourke and Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott, running for another term as governor, built up a bankroll of money before O’Rourke even entered the race last November and Beto is unlikely to catchup financially. Polling since then has shown the likely Democratic nominee is five to ten points back of the GOP incumbent.

"Well the difficulty for Beto O'Rourke is giving Democrats hope that he can actually be victorious," said Mark P. Jones, Baker Institute, Rice University.

Abbott is attempting to tie O’Rourke to President Joe Biden, whose approval rating is underwater in the state. 

"Beto needs to go to [donors] and convince them of why they should invest in his campaign, where right now what his campaign is showing is that it’s likely to lose and the only real question is does it lose in the high single digits or low double digits," Jones said.

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O'Rourke has trailed Abbott in fund raising the last two reporting cycles. The Beto team is asking grassroots supporters for donations as small as $3 with a goal of $250,000 raised by Saturday.

The playing field is different four years later, as well. O’Rourke was challenging Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump was in the White House.

"He was able to raise money both from people who thought he had a realistic chance of defeating Cruz as well as people who were angry with Trump," Jones said. "This time around, having Biden in the White House is dampening Democratic support."

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SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson says O'Rourke won't ever match Abbott's war chest, but said he doesn't need to.

"They've got to be able to speak to the public in Texas and sell their themes and their policy promises. You don't have to have as much money as the other guy, but you've got to be able to introduce yourself to the people of Texas and make your case," Jillson said.

Both political minds think the Beto camp has to run hard as it can.

"I think any candidate needs to run flat out to make their best case and hopes that something happens in the race to shine the spotlight on them and have people listen," Jones said.

"Beto is in the race and he can’t get out, so he needs to make the best of it and right now that is staying close enough so that if Abbott commits a misstep or Biden improves his standings among Texans, Beto can take advantage of it and at the same time not losing by such a large margin that his political career and future is ruined," Jillson said.

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