Texas will hold its gubernatorial primary March 1, with a runoff scheduled for May 24, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

The question that Texas voters will face on Election Day, Nov. 8, is whether a Democrat — likely to be two-time loser Robert O’Rourke, with a failed 2018 Senate bid and 2020 presidential campaign run that went nowhere, and an open border apologist who favors Second Amendment restrictions — can win in Texas, illegal immigration’s ground zero.

The first hurdle for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is getting past the primary. No incumbent Texas governor has lost a party’s nomination since 1978, when Democratic Gov. Dolph Briscoe lost to then-Attorney General John Hill.

Abbott, however, is facing strong primary challengers. They are state Sen. Don Huffines, a real estate developer, and Allen West, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant who represented Florida’s 22nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. Until he resigned to launch his gubernatorial campaign, West served as chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.

Huffines and West have both criticized Abbott for his coronavirus restrictions, which included mask mandates and business shutdowns that they view as unconstitutional, and an unnecessary obstruction to Texans’ freedom.

Abbott’s performance ratings are weak. The Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin both found that 40% of Texans have an unfavorable opinion of the sitting governor.

Nevertheless, Abbott is favored to prevail, and will probably meet O’Rourke in November, a matchup that, because of their starkly different immigration positions, should favor the incumbent.

O’Rourke knows that in Texas immigration enforcement will be a game breaker, and he’s choosing his language judiciously. The O’Rourke of today may have a tough time escaping the O’Rourke who pursued the 2020 presidential nomination.

Posted on his website, he states that he wants Texas to have a “legal, orderly system of immigration and uphold our country’s asylum laws.” Texans recognize these words as code for amnesty, an O’Rourke goal that’s unchanged from 21 months ago.

At an April 2019 Iowa town hall, O’Rourke said that giving amnesty to all 12 million to 25 million illegal aliens will make American citizens — and specifically, the Angel Families whose loved ones have been murdered by criminal aliens — “demonstrably safer.”

O’Rourke’s premise that once aliens “get right with the law … come into the light of day (and presumably out of the ever-present shadows) … and contribute to the success of the country …” then everything will be fine. These platitudes have never been proven true.

On border issues, O’Rourke, because of his past support for amnesty, and his failure to meaningfully criticize illegal immigration, has boxed himself in.

Abbott, even though his primary opponents argue that he should do more to stop the illegal immigrant border surge, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars to strengthen border security that includes sending Department of Public Safety officers and the National Guard to the Rio Grande.

Hispanic voters, a key bloc, approve of Abbott’s immigration actions; 45% gave him an approval rating on immigration, but only 37% gave President Joe Biden an immigration thumbs-up.

O’Rourke, who will have trouble distancing himself from Biden, will not ask Biden to join him on the campaign trail, and said that his campaign will not be about anyone outside of Texas.

He will, however, accept out-of-state donations. The O’Rourke coffers have nearly $9 million as of the most recent tally, about $40 million less than Abbott.

Other issues will play an important role as both campaigns shift into high gear: Texas’ power grid, a woman’s right to choose and inflation are also important to Texans.

The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas Tyler poll has Abbott with a commanding 11-point lead. But running behind early in the game isn’t O’Rourke’s greatest concern.

The border remains open and chaotic. Based on the 2021 statistics, between today and early November, hundreds of thousands of new illegal immigrants will cross into Texas, an albatross that even the most skilled campaigner can’t talk his way out of.

— Joe Guzzardi is an analyst and researcher with Progressives for Immigration Reform who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org, or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Joe Guzzardi

Joe Guzzardi

Joe Guzzardi is a nationally syndicated columnist writing about immigration and related social issues. A California native who now lives in Pittsburgh, he’s a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who can be reached at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org. The opinions expressed are his own.