Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s bid for a third term is set to face a major challenge from former Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to a poll released on Monday, which shows the governor holding a lead of just one percentage point over O’Rourke in the likely 2022 matchup.
The poll from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University found Abbott with 43% support among all registered voters in a ballot featuring O’Rourke (42%), along with a Libertarian candidate (2%) and a Green Party candidate (1%).
The four-person ballot did not include well-known actor Matthew McConaughey, who’s been publicly mulling a run.
If he runs, McConaughey doesn’t appear to be a serious contender for governor, according to the poll, which showed only 9% of registered voters supporting him on a five-candidate ballot.
In the scenario McConaughey runs, the poll found he’d mostly take support away from O’Rourke, who drops from 42% in the four-candidate scenario down to 37%, while Abbott’s support drops from 43% to 40%.
The poll of 1,402 voters took place from October 14 to October 27.
What To Watch For
Abbott has a strong lead over his Republican primary candidates, according to the poll, gathering 61% support among likely primary voters. That’s well ahead of former Texas GOP chairman Allen West, who had 13% support, and former Texas state Sen. Don Huffines, who polled at 4%. Both are positioning themselves as more conservative than Abbott, attacking him for enacting lockdowns and a mask mandate earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, but Abbott has critically landed the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
No major Democratic candidates have officially entered the 2022 race, but O’Rourke is reportedly planning to announce his candidacy later this year. O’Rourke, who served as a congressman representing the El Paso area from 2013 to 2019, became a well-known national figure when he narrowly lost to incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 by a margin of 50.9%-48.3%. O’Rourke followed the closely-watched run with a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, but the campaign did not gain much traction and ended up being suspended before the primaries. The 2022 governor’s race will be yet another high-profile contest for O’Rourke, as Democrats hope to capitalize on what they claim are demographic trends working in their favor in the state, namely a population that is becoming younger and more diverse. But the party did not deliver on high expectations for the 2020 election, with Trump carrying the state by nearly six percentage points and Democrats failing to take control of the Texas legislature. There’s a major mark working in Democrats’ favor for the 2022 race, though—Abbott’s approval rating has taken a big hit during the pandemic. Abbott has faced attacks from both the right and the left, with Democrats slamming the governor’s decision to lift Covid restrictions in the state and Republicans criticizing him for allowing restrictions to be enacted in the first place. Abbott defeated his Democratic challenger in each of his two gubernatorial elections so far by at least 13 percentage points.
Voters seem to have no idea what McConaughey’s political views are. Some 28% of voters think he has views that align him with Republicans, while 41% think his opinions align him mostly with Democrats. It seems both parties are willing to call McConaughey one of their own at this point, though. Among Republicans, 49% say they believe he has Republican views, while 58% of Democrats believe he aligns with their party.