Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won a second term Tuesday in one of Texas’ most uneventful races for governor in decades, despite the headwinds of Democratic enthusiasm nationally and U.S. Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke awakening liberal voters at home.
Similar forces put the GOP’s grip on governorships in Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin on the defense. But in Texas, Abbott’s re-election was seldom in doubt against Democrat Lupe Valdez, a former sheriff who was running to become the state’s first Latina and openly gay governor.
The lopsided victory was a reminder that Texas is still deeply Republican, even as O’Rourke gave Republican Sen. Ted Cruz the state’s closest U.S. Senate race in a generation. Valdez never put together a serious statewide campaign, including never airing television ads, and she struggled to break even $1 million in fundraising.
Abbott, 60, now follows Rick Perry and George W. Bush as Texas Republican governors who handily won re-election — and elevated their national ambitions in the process. Abbott, however, lacks the big Texas personas of those predecessors and has built his name in other ways.
Last year, Abbott signed the toughest “sanctuary city” ban in the U.S. and was the only governor to push for a North Carolina-style bathroom bill targeting transgender people, two highly divisive issues that have spelled trouble for Republican officeholders elsewhere.
But in Texas, Abbott was being safely rewarded with four more years, which are likely to include more efforts to restrict abortions and immigration crackdowns.
But a bigger challenge awaits him after Tuesday. He is out to reassert his power after failing last year to mend bitter party infighting in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and lawmakers brushed off many of his policy demands after Abbott dragged them into a special session.
Abbott was also unsuccessful in driving out two of his biggest Republican critics this year after campaigning for their primary opponents.
He looked far more dominant in his own race. Valdez, 71, was a barrier-breaking candidate but even national Democratic groups never got behind her stumbling campaign. Among the issues Valdez faced was backlash from liberal Hispanic activists over her record of cooperating with federal immigration agents while she was Dallas County sheriff.