Backed by voter goodwill and a mountain of cash, Greg Abbott on Tuesday easily secured a second term as the 48th governor of Texas. CNN projected him the winner moments after 8 p.m., just after statewide polling closed.
Abbott, who turns 61 next week, defeated Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez, the first Latina and first openly gay candidate to run for that seat; he also defeated Libertarian Mark Jay Tippetts. With 30 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, Abbott had an insurmountable margin of 56 percent to 43 percent.
Abbott’s victory extends the Republican winning streak for the state’s executive office to twenty-four years without a single defeat by a Democrat.
“Tonight, voters across Texas sent a clear message,” Abbott said in the prepared statement. “They voted to build on the success of the past four years and to keep Texas on a path toward greater opportunity and prosperity. We must always remember that what unites as Texans is far greater than our differences.”
Abbott will be inaugurated to a second term as governor on January 15 and will oversee the 86th Legislative session amid promises of reforming the state’s property tax system, addressing veterans issues, improving the economy, making schools safer and staying tough on border security. He has had a contentious relationship with lawmakers, some of whom have accused him of being missing for much of the last regular session last year, then showing up late to make legislative demands.
How well he accomplishes his legislative goals next year may be determined, in part, by the relationship he develops with the as-yet-unknown speaker of the Texas House. Retiring Speaker Joe Straus frequently acted as a foil to populist conservative legislation championed by Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. As the jockeying continues for the person who will succeed Straus, efforts are active by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to find a moderate Republican much in the mold of Straus who stood up to Abbott and Patrick.
Until then, Abbott can not be blamed for taking a victory lap. Since formally announcing his candidacy last year, his reelection was never in doubt. Every year except for his first year in office as governor, public approval of his job as governor has exceeded those who disapprove, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Ever the pragmatic politician, Abbott still bolstered his reelection efforts by breaking fundraising records at the state level and he began this election year with more than $43 million cash on hand. He has raised more than $52 million since taking office in January 2015. He outraised Valdez by a margin of 18-to-1 and in October he spent six times the amount of money that Valdez was able to raise in her entire gubernatorial campaign.
In addition to the financial pressures she faced, Valdez ran a lackluster campaign against Abbott. Initially, she was criticized for a startling lack of understanding of statewide public policy. Some Democrats privately raised concerns after they initially met with her early on in her campaign because she seemed to convey that her ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation would help sweep her into office. She reminded people that she was an underdog in Dallas County before getting elected four times as sheriff.
Perhaps a seminal moment in her campaign came during the primary when she met with a group called JOLT, which aims to increase voter turnout among Latino youth in Texas. After the meeting and a similar one with her primary opponent, businessman Andrew White, JOLT endorsed White over Valdez citing her lack of public policy knowledge.
During their only debate on September 28, Valdez had a better grasp of policy. But Abbott showed his own mastery of state government that comes from two decades in its trenches. Then-Governor George W. Bush appointed Abbott to a vacant seat on the Texas Supreme Court in 1995. Then in 2002, he was elected Texas attorney general, a position that brought him national prominence because of the more than 30 lawsuits he filed against the Obama administration.
Abbott was first elected governor four years ago by crushing popular Democrat Wendy Davis by twenty points. His tenure in office has been marked by two mass shootings—one in a church in Sutherland Springs; the other at a school in Santa Fe—and a major gulf storm. It was Hurricane Harvey in which Abbott won wide praise for his leadership despite setbacks he had with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner over money to rebuild after the storm.
Abbott is married the Cecilia Abbott, the first Latina first lady in Texas history. Even before Valdez was nominated by the Democratic Party, Abbott has been eager to demonstrate his popularity among Texas Hispanics. He is a frequent visitor to the Rio Grande Valley, which was his first destination following his formal reelection announcement. Four years ago, exit polls showed that he received about 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and he wanted to raise that number this election. Last session, he alienated many Hispanics because of a priority he made to outlaw sanctuary cities in Texas, a term that has no legal definition, but is generally one in which city officials do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The legislation came to be called Senate Bill 4 and one of the most contentious amendments to that legislation was a measure that gives local law enforcement the authority to ask for citizenship status of people who have been stopped. Valdez, however, was never able to gain traction in her campaign by using this issue.
Abbott is the first Texas governor to occupy a state executive office while in a wheelchair. He has used one since a freak accident in 1984, when he was 26 years old. The limb of a tree fell on him while he was jogging. On Halloween, the Abbott campaign released a 30-second commercial, his final one of this year’s campaign, in which he revisited that accident.
“Thirty-four years ago his back was broken,” a narrator says. “He was paralyzed forever, and his life seemed crushed. He rehabilitated. He persevered. Little did he know he would one day become governor of the greatest state in America. Greg Abbott’s life story embodies the spirit of Texas. Dream big and never give up. It’s how he governs Texas. He believes our lives aren’t defined by our challenges but by how we respond to those challenges. To Greg Abbott, anything is possible in Texas.”
In other statewide races (incomplete returns):
|Lieutenant Governor||Republican Dan Patrick, 51 percent||Democrat Mike Collier, 46 percent||Libertarian Kerry McKennon, 2 percent|
|Land Commissioner||Republican George P. Bush, 54 percent||Democrat Mike Suazo, 42 percent||Libertarian Matt Pina, 3 percent|
|Agriculture Commissioner||Republican Sid Miller, 51 percent||Democrat Kim Olson, 46 percent||Libertarian Richard Carpenter, 2 percent|
|Attorney General||Republican Ken Paxton, 51 percent||Democrat Justin Nelson, 46 percent||Libertarian Michael Ray Harris, 2 percent|
|Comptroller||Republican Glenn Hegar, 53 percent||Democrat Joi Chevalier, 42 percent||Libertarian Ben Sanders, 3 percent|
|Railroad Commissioner||Republican Christi Craddick, 53 percent||Democrat Roman McAllen, 43 percent||Libertarian Mike Wright, 2 percent|