By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — The sole debate between Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger Robert “Beto” O’Rourke will be held Friday night.
NewsNation (www.newsnationnow.com) will broadcast the debate live from 7-8 p.m. Central time (5-6 p.m. Pacific time).
The debate is being held at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley campus in Edinburgh, a border town where border security and illegal immigration is front and center.
According to a new The Hill/Emerson poll, Gov. Abbott leads Mr. O’Rourke by 8 points, up from a recent Spectrum News/Sienna College poll showing a 7-point lead.
A RealClear Politics average has Gov. Abbott leading by 8 points.
According to the Spectrum poll, the top issue of concern to voters is the economy and rising costs due to inflation. The second is border security.
In response to Gov. Abbott leading in the polls, Mr. O’Rourke said in Austin over the weekend, “The only poll that matters is the one we take on Election Day.”
Mr. O’Rourke also criticized then presidential candidate Joe Biden when he was running for president, saying he ignored the Rio Grande Valley.
“Candidate Biden didn’t spend a dime or day in the Rio Grande Valley or really anywhere in Texas, for that matter, once we got down in the homestretch of the general election,” Mr. O’Rourke told attendees at a Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Saturday. “You got to be locking eyeballs with the people that you want to fight for and serve and whose votes that you want to win.”
Republicans have been pouring money into the region, hoping to flip several congressional districts red, which helped now U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores win her special election. Rep. Flores was the first Republican to win her district’s congressional seat in Texas history.
Two other Republican women, Monica De La Cruz and Cassie Garcia, are also hoping to flip their border districts red, which have been Democratic strongholds.
While Mr. O’Rourke has been pushing abortion rights as a key issue for voters, Ms. De La Cruz and Ms. Garcia have been running on a pro-life platform in a region that is heavily Hispanic, Roman Catholic and pro-life. Ms. Garcia is hoping to unseat Democratic incumbent, Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who is pro-life.
Texas Right to Life said ahead of the primary election, “The Valley has long been a Democrat stronghold, but that is changing as more Hispanics are rejecting the Democratic Party’s radically anti-Life policies.”
Ahead of winning her primary race, Ms. De La Cruz, who is “unapologetically pro-life,” said, “District 15 has a solid Catholic base. We have a Basilica in this district, as you know, in San Juan. So, this is a solid pro-life district … Our district stands for the pro-life movement.”
Many argue Gov. Abbott is the most pro-life governor of Texas after he signed the state’s Heartbeat Bill into law, which outlaws abortion once a heartbeat is detected and allows private citizens to sue those who violate the law, with exceptions.
Gov. Abbott argues the law is “saving babies every day.” Mr. O’Rourke argues it has stripped away women’s rights. He has pledged to make abortion legal in Texas. While he and other Democrats argue the law is extreme, the bill passed with bipartisan support.
Mr. O’Rourke also has been advocating for gun restrictions after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde. When running for president in 2019, he famously pledged, “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15.”
Last year, he backtracked on the claim but reversed again in June saying, “Right there, if you want a solution, stop selling AR-15s in the state of Texas.”
His campaign affirmed Mr. O’Rourke’s gun control platform, in line with the Democratic Party of Texas, as “prioritizing common-sense gun safety reforms that have broad, bipartisan support across the state.” This includes “repealing permitless carry, passing universal background checks, implementing red flag laws, enacting safe storage laws, and keeping weapons of war on the battlefield by preventing their sale in our communities.”
While expanding numerous school safety and mental health resources for the Uvalde community and schools statewide, Gov. Abbott also has sought to protect the Second Amendment rights of Texans. Since he’s been governor, he signed bills into law legalizing campus carry, open carry and others to protect legal gun owners.
As the former attorney general, Mr. Abbott championed the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Heller, which struck down a handgun ban and upheld the Second Amendment. He also was one of the first AGs to challenge the Obama administration when it sought to use the United Nations to regulate guns in the U.S.