Abbott is seeking a record-trying third term Tuesday while O’Rourke reached for an upset in America’s biggest red state.
Some major issues are at stake for voters in Texas. Many voters are angry over the Uvalde school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead in May, intensifying an already heated contest in which both candidates’ campaigns combined spent more than $200 million.
Five months later, Texas state police still face pressure for failing to confront the gunman sooner at Robb Elementary School. O’Rourke said the shooting, one of the deadliest classroom attacks in U.S. history, crystalized the stakes of the election as Abbott waved off calls for tougher gun laws.
Abbott has remained formidable in a state where Republicans have won every governor’s race since 1994.
He’s taken a big focus on securing the southern border, which has seen record numbers of migrant crossings. Abbott’s office says he’s bused nearly 13,000 migrants to New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
Abbott has rallied his base around a record number of illegal border crossings from Mexico to the U.S., aggressively courted Hispanic voters in South Texas and seized on economic anxieties and recession fears that have created headwinds for Democrats nationally.
A victory by Abbott would strengthen his position as a potential presidential contender in 2024, secure his place as the second-longest serving governor in the state’s history and extend decades of GOP dominance.
O’Rourke has focused his campaign on abortion rights, stricter gun policies in the wake of Uvalde and legalizing marijuana. On Tuesday, he was set to embark on one last campaign blitz through Dallas, San Antonio and Houston before heading home to wait for election returns in his hometown of El Paso.
Abbott was spending election night Tuesday in the southern border city of McAllen, underscoring the GOP’s rising confidence in a region that has long been a stronghold for Democrats.
O’Rourke’s hard-charging challenge has rekindled Democrats’ hopes while appealing to voters soured by the Uvalde shooting, a strict new abortion ban and the deadly collapse of the state’s power grid in winter 2021. The former El Paso congressman has cast himself as a fresh start for Texas and a check on a GOP-controlled Legislature, while vowing to legalize marijuana and expand Medicaid.
But four years after O’Rourke, 50, nearly won a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, raising his profile in the Democratic Party, he has confronted more skeptical voters. Abbott has painted him as a liberal crusader, and O’Rourke has been forced to answer for positions he took while running for the White House, particularly his support of mandatory gun buybacks.
Early voting numbers are down from 2018, but more than 17 million people are registered to vote, which is more than there were in 2020. More than 5 million early votes were cast ahead of Election Day in Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.