Incumbent Texas Gov. Greg Abbott effectively tied his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke to the unpopular policies of President Biden in a debate between the two, according to an expert in campaign debate preparation.
Abbott and O’Rourke squared off Friday at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where the border was a major topic of discussion, along with abortion, gun control and energy.
The apparent tactic of Abbott, like other Republicans in the 2022 midterm election cycle, was to tie O’Rourke to the president, who has struggled with underwater approval ratings for over a year and whose party faces historical headwinds and a slate of crises. According to Brett O’Donnell, an expert in advising political candidates to debate effectively, Abbott succeeded.
“Beginning with immigration, which dominated the beginning of the debate, Abbott repeatedly blamed Biden for the crisis and tied O’Rourke as the representative for those failures in Texas,” O’Donnell told Fox News Digital.
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O’Donnell, who helped seven GOP candidates win seats in the Senate in 2014 and did the same in 2016, said this midterm cycle is all about the sitting president.
“In 2014, Barack Obama famously said that ‘his policies were on the ballot. Every single one of them.’ Almost every Republican in 2014 used that line with success and added that, in their district or state, the policies went by the name of their Democrat opponent. And while Joe Biden hasn’t said exactly the same, Republicans have played it as so,” O’Donnell said.
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On immigration, O’Rourke, who sat on City Council in El Paso, where he still lives, attempted to blame the situation on Abbott. “We are eight years into his time as governor, and this is what we have on our border,” O’Rourke said.
Abbott has taken fire for a program of bussing migrants to left-wing “sanctuary cities” in recent months, which critics say is a political stunt and takes advantage of the suffering of immigrants seeking better lives for their families. But, during the debate, Abbott suggested he would continue the program since the border situation allows unchecked flow of illegal immigration.
“There will be other cities in the future that also will be on the receiving end of migrants, because we will continue to have to move migrants because Joe Biden continues to allow more illegal immigrants to come into the state of Texas,” Abbott said.
O’Rourke made much of the debate about abortion and gun control policies, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June and the tragic shooting at Uvalde Elementary School in May.
“O’Rourke wants to make this election about abortion — he said so in the debate,” O’Donnell said.
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Abbott said his pro-life views originate from his Catholic faith and the adoption of his daughter and insisted he would govern from those principles.
“This election is about reproductive freedom, but I’ve got to respond to this, this silliness on Plan B — this comment he made about eliminating rape in the state of Texas. This is an attack on women,” O’Rourke said, referring to a comment Abbott made that he wanted to “eliminate rapists” from Texas.
There was one major midterm issue that didn’t make it into the discussion, O’Donnell said.
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“The two extensively debated immigration, guns, abortion, crime, the electrical grid and taxes, but oddly missing was an extensive discussion of the economy. Perhaps that’s because the Texas economy has been strong. But its very telling that the media panel omitted a discussion of inflation that is impacting the daily lives of every single Texan but spent multiple questions on abortion,” O’Donnell said.
Abbott accused O’Rourke on several occasions of changing his position.
“The ghost of 2008 John Kerry also was invoked as Abbott also repeatedly accused O’Rourke of flip-flopping on issues, beginning with his position on deploying troops to the border.”
O’Rourke, who has been haunted in his campaign by his previous support for confiscating high-powered weapons while running for president in 2019, did not directly answer when asked if he still supported the position.
“I’m for making progress,” he said Friday night.
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“Abbott effectively made it about Biden-O’Rourke,” O’Donnell said.
The Texas gubernatorial election is Nov. 8.