Expect border policy to dominate Texas gubernatorial campaigns

State & Regional

EDINBURG, Texas (Nexstar) — On Monday Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign for re-election launched its first statewide television advertisement featuring an endorsement from the National Border Patrol Council, a sure sign that border policy will be one of the top issues ahead of the March primary election.

The council’s president, Brandon Judd, narrates the 30-second ad in which he commends the Republican incumbent and largely blames the Biden administration for issues at the southern border.

“Joe Biden refuses to secure our southern border. He’s crippled law enforcement and emboldened dangerous drug cartels, criminals and human traffickers,” Judd said in the video. “He [Abbott] deployed new resources to assist law enforcement and he’s cracked down on criminal activity. No other governor has done more to secure our border than Greg Abbott.”

Judd also joined Abbott in a joint press conference Monday making his organization’s endorsement official. There, the governor also made it clear that this will be yet again a key campaign talking point.

“The chaos and crisis at the border caused by the Biden administration’s open border policies makes the border one of the most important issues facing the state of Texas at this time,” he said.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said it was expected for the governor to tackle border security in his first television ad.

“This is an issue that’s very salient to almost all Republican voters,” he said. “The governor, his campaign, also knows that the approach they’ve taken to the border enjoys a lot of support among Republican voters and support that is intense.”

An August 2021 poll from the Texas Politics Project and University of Texas-Austin found 41% of Republicans approved strongly of Abbott’s handling of immigration and border security. However, 71% of Democrats disapproved strongly, which Henson said could make Abbott vulnerable in the general election, if he wins the GOP nomination again.

“He gets low ratings among Democrats. But you know, that’s not really what’s on the table right now,” Henson said. “And once you start trying to mobilize Republican voters in a general election, nothing mobilizes voters like talking about immigration and border security.”

Other candidates’ criticism of Abbott on immigration, border policy

Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke — who is largely seen as Abbott’s strongest Democratic challenger — has railed against the governor’s rhetoric about the border as political theatre.

“For those wondering why Greg Abbott is so preoccupied with the border and is trying to scare us about what he describes as an invasion at the U.S. Mexico border, it might be because he has some very real problems in Texas that he’s absolutely failed to address and wants to distract us,” O’Rourke told Nexstar.

He went on to sharply rebuke “Operation Lone Star” — an ongoing mission that the governor launched in March 2021, sending the Texas National Guard to the southern border. The strategy has recently come under fire after four deployed guardsmen died by suicide.

“It’s an absolute tragedy because they’re being used as political props for the governor,” O’Rourke said. “As governor, I’m going to make sure that we work with Republicans and Democrats alike to rewrite our immigration laws so that we have rule of law at the border, predictability, and the order that we’re missing right now.”

The Democrat has frequently spotlighted the power grid meltdown during the 2021 February winter freeze as well as Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic — two issues also likely to be front and center during campaign season.

For two of Abbott’s most vocal Republican opponents — Allen West and Don Huffines — large criticism of the border has been top of mind, but not in the same direction as O’Rourke’s.

Following the September influx of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, both West and Huffines put out videos calling the border’s security into question.

“Governor Greg Abbott is out claiming the border is secure. I mean, really? How can he claim our border is secure when thousands of illegals are invading Texas,” Huffines said in a September campaign video. “When I’m governor, I will never ask permission to secure the Texas border.”

West had similar remarks saying in a September video, “No longer do we accept blaming the Biden administration. Leadership is about taking action.”

Blaming the Biden administration is a talking point that likely will not go away after the primaries, especially on this subject matter. According to the Texas Politics Project, 63% of Texans disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of the border. That includes 92% of Republicans, 64% of Independents and 27% of Democrats.

“All the more reason for Abbott to raise the issue, and O’Rourke to do his best to deflect it,” Henson said in poll analysis.

There are several people running for governor against Abbott. For a full list, click here.

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