Gov. Abbott’s lead over Beto O’Rourke widens in two polls

Gov. Greg Abbott’s lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke is widening, according to two polls this week that show Republicans are gaining ground ahead of November’s midterm elections.

This comes months after the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Overthrowing Wade sent shockwaves across the country and unleashed a wave of left-leaning activism. The latest data suggests that the energy surrounding this ruling may be overshadowed by Republicans’ intense focus on border security, including their recent efforts to bus migrants into Democratic-run cities.

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The Spectrum News/Siena College poll showed Abbott leading O’Rourke by 50-43, and other statewide candidates had similar gaps: Lt. gov. Dan Patrick was 49-40 ahead of Democrat Mike Collier and Attorney General Ken Paxton had a 47-42 lead over Democrat Rochelle Garza.

The poll also found that Texas voters believe immigration is more important than abortion. About 33 percent of respondents said immigration was their first or second-biggest concern before the midterms, while 22 percent said the same thing about abortion.

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Overall, Texans overwhelmingly consider the economy and inflation to be their top priorities.

The Siena survey has been conducted September 14-18, while Abbott continues to draw national attention for busing thousands of migrants out of Texas and dropping them off in Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago in what he calls an attempt called to show President Joe Biden how serious he is The situation is borderline. The governor’s critics have called the program a ploy that uses people as political pawns.

“The Biden-Harris administration continues to ignore and deny the historic crisis on our southern border that has endangered and overwhelmed Texas communities for nearly two years,” Abbott said last week.

According to the Siena poll, about 52 percent of likely voters support the Busing initiative. Another 40 percent reject the efforts.

O’Rourke, appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” said last week that the bus program does not address the “underlying challenge” the country faces in its immigration system. He advocated a revision of the US immigration law that would make naturalization easier.

“That’s part of what this Texas election is about, isn’t it?” said O’Rourke. “We’re either going to have this borderline theatrics and stunts that haven’t helped anyone, or we’re going to actually be leaders on an issue we know better than anyone.”

Polls are a good tool to gauge public opinion at any given moment, but they are not predictors of election outcomes. The Siena poll, which statistically adjusted results for age, race, regional voting pattern and other characteristics, has an error rate of 4.4 percentage points.

Immigration: “Great Unifier” for GOP

The more Texans think and talk about the border or immigration, the better for Abbott, said two researchers with the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Their survey routinely asks respondents about the top issues facing the state. In last month’s version, border security and immigration at the top of the list – a trend that has continued for years, with the sole exception of COVID-19 breaking through at the worst stages of the pandemic.

According to polls, these issues are far more important to Republican voters than Democrats. And on average, Abbott is considered better able to deal with border security concerns than O’Rourke.

“One of the things you try to do when you’re in a campaign is to talk about the issues that are mobilizing your constituents and causing problems for your partisan opponents,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project. “Immigration and border security are the great unifiers of Republican politics in Texas.”

Abbott was hot earlier this summer for escaping discussions about access to abortion following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe or gun safety following the May 24 Uvalde shooting, Henson said. Abbott instead focused on his border initiative, Operation Lone Star, which arrests migrants for breaching the peace — an issue sure to anger his base, he said.

“In cold political terms, they’ve been eyeballing the ball and waiting for the upcoming fall election season,” Henson said. “That works in their favor in terms of issue ownership, because immigration and border security are good issues for Republicans.”

State Assemblyman Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said the poll’s results reinforce immigration should be a priority for politicians on both sides of the aisle. But it’s one thing for someone to prioritize immigration and another to base their vote on it, he said.

“The governor has been able to politicize the immigration issue and has spent billions of dollars in state funds on essentially lavish campaign propaganda for himself — and clearly that has had some repercussions,” Turner said.

“There are a number of issues where Republicans could have an advantage, and there are other issues where Democrats have an advantage. I think it comes down to who can communicate most effectively on these issues in the remaining weeks of the campaign.”

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