Former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas, according to a report Sunday — as a new poll showed the onetime Democratic presidential hopeful gaining ground against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
O’Rourke plans to announce his comeback candidacy later this year, Axios said, citing unidentified political operatives in the Lone Star State.
Abbott is seeking reelection in 2022 and has raised more than $55 million for his campaign.
But support for the incumbent has been dropping since January and is now at just 45 percent, with 54 percent saying Texas is on the wrong track, according to a poll conducted last week by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.
O’Rourke has cut Abbott’s lead in a hypothetical match-up from 12 percentage points to 5 in the past two months, the Morning News reported Sunday.
Pollster Mark Owens, a professor at UT Tyler, said Abbott was being hurt by his staunchly conservative positions on “so many issues” — including opposing mandatory mask-wearing and vaccinations against COVID-19 and championing the state’s strict anti-abortion law.
O’Rourke recently footed the bill for some state Democratic lawmakers to flee Texas to try to prevent the passage of a local Republican election-reform bill.
O’Rourke served three terms in the US House before losing a 2018 bid to unseat US Sen. Ted Cruz (D-Texas) that saw him build a national following and raise than $80 million in donations.
He abandoned a bid for the White House before last year’s election, saying he didn’t “have the means to move forward successfully.”
O’Rourke has been soliciting advice from his political allies ahead of his planned gubernatorial campaign, Axios said.
“We hope that he’s going to run,” state Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa told Axios.
“We think he’ll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because [the governor is] vulnerable.”
Still, O’Rourke’s former House chief of staff and longtime adviser, David Wysong, insisted, “No decision been made.
“He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state,” Wysong told Axios of O’Rourke.
A run for governor would also potentially pit O’Rourke against Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, who’s been publicly flirting with a campaign since March.
McConaughey hasn’t said if he would run as a Democrat, Republican or independent.