Former US congressman and presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke is hinting at a potential campaign for yet another office: the governor’s mansion in his native Texas.
“One way or the other, I’m in for the distance for Texas,” the El Paso native told People magazine on Friday, adding “that might be as a candidate”, but it could also be as a “volunteer”.
Right now, though, he says his “full focus” is on combatting a proposed bill in the Texas legislature that’s among the harshest Republican crackdowns in the nation against voting rights following the 2020 election and Donald Trump’s repeated, unfounded, claims of voter fraud.
In the last two weeks alone, Mr O’Rourke been in more than 15 different cities across the Lone Star State, and is planning a rally on the steps of the state capitol over the weekend.
The Texas voting bill, Senate Bill 7, would restrict voting hours, narrow local control of elections, tighten mail-in voting rules and give more access to partisan poll-watchers. Republicans in the state have argued the measures are necessary for election security, even though the Houston Chronicle reported there were only 43 fraud cases out of 11 million total votes cast in the 2020 elections, which the GOP swept in the state.
During a recent visit, vice president Kamala Harris praised Democratic lawmakers in Texas for staging a walkout to prevent SB7 from moving forward. She also said these kinds of restrictive measures are a result of a 2013 Supreme Court cases which ended the “pre-clearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act, a provision where states with a history of disenfranchisement like Texas had to clear voting rule changes with the federal government.
“We have seen exactly what we feared when that case came down in 2013. Because that case was an opening of a door to allow states to do what otherwise we have protected against, which is states putting in place laws that are designed, in many cases quite intentionally, to make it difficult for people to vote,” she said. “And so this is what we’ve seen over and over again, and what’s happening right now in Texas is, of course, a very clear and current example of that.”
Mr O’Rourke, who nearly defeated the influential Republican senator Ted Cruz in 2018, could face off against former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro and actor Matthew McConaughey to be the Democratic nominee for governor.
Despite the enthusiasm, incumbent governor Greg Abbott is a favourite to win re-election, though the Texas Democratic party leadership has expressed excitement about Mr O’Rourke running.
"If anybody could beat Abbott, he could beat him," chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told the Associated Press last month.
Still, hopes for a “blue wave” in the Republican stronghold of Texas, the largest state where the GOP controls all three branches of government, have so far gone unrequited.
Mr O’Rourke did surprisingly well against Mr Cruz, but lost by 200,000 or so votes, and Democrats didn’t make any meaningful gains in the 2020 election. They haven’t won a statewide election in the state since 1994. Donald Trump easily won the state in 2020 despite polls showing Joe Biden competitive.