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Leaders of Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for governor generally defended their strategy on Monday, saying they had made a valiant effort despite an impressive incumbent and national headwinds. At the same time, they said they are reviewing a number of decisions they made en route to an 11 percentage point loss to Gov. Greg Abbott.
“If the margin is what it is, you’re no silver bullet away from winning,” O’Rourke deputy campaign manager Jason Lee said Monday on a post-election conference call with reporters. “There’s a lot of things we need to look at across the board — investments, resource allocation, maybe even on the messaging side.”
Texas Democrats seek soul again after statewide blowout. O’Rourke’s campaign team reiterated some of the factors already released last week, such as voter turnout, which fell short of both sides’ forecasts. Abbott’s campaign has argued it has a “better messenger and a stronger message.”
Lee congratulated Abbott on a “very disciplined, effective, extremely well-funded” campaign, but noted that this was the smallest lead Abbott had in his three gubernatorial campaigns, along with other bright spots for the Democratic vote. For example, he said Democrats had been able to minimize their losses in South Texas, which the GOP was aggressively targeting, and polls showed Abbott had failed to win the statewide Hispanic vote, which he had promised.
While O’Rourke ultimately surpassed Abbott, the governor still spent more, and Lee noted that the odds against O’Rourke in “a year in which Democrats across the country have been battling low approval ratings for Biden, record inflation, instability on the southern border.” and the perception of a sharp rise in crime in our urban cores.”
But Lee said the infrastructure O’Rourke has built for Democrats will pay off in years to come.
“The way states ultimately turn is that whichever party is not in power has to compete in each cycle,” Lee said. “Even if the underlying conditions are unfavorable, we must make serious electoral efforts to ensure that we do not go backwards. Never let go of the rope.”
Abbott’s campaign held its own media call the morning after the election, in which he said O’Rourke had been hit with an upside-down favor rating throughout the race — a product of his previous campaigns — and that Abbott focused more on the major ones Issues for voters got focused such as economy and border.
“In fact, the governor is better than Beto when it comes to matters,” said Gardner Pate, Abbott’s campaign manager.
On Monday’s call, Lee and O’Rourke communications director Chris Evans expressed little regret about the campaign strategy, particularly when it came to reaching young voters and rural communities.
Although O’Rourke toured college campuses and prioritized registering young voters, Lee said the campaign likely did not generate the young turnout that was hoped for pending a definitive analysis.
As for rural Texas, O’Rourke regularly faces the question of whether the country’s small population and large GOP voter base makes it worth campaigning.
“You can do multiple things at once,” Evans said. “You can have an event in the Panhandle and run a campaign in Harris County at the same time. So often we think we have to make a choice.”
O’Rourke’s campaign officials suggested addressing how to respond to Abbott’s attacks on O’Rourke. When asked if they would have liked anything differently, Evans suggested an area “reacts more directly to attacks while also” keeping the heat on Abbott.
Lee acknowledged that Abbott’s efforts to tie O’Rourke to an unpopular president had some impact, especially when focused on an issue like inflation. But Lee said countering these attacks “isn’t as simple as reacting because these are established narratives” historically favored by Republicans.
“It’s very difficult to change an established narrative in the middle of an election cycle, especially when you’re overwhelmed,” Lee said.
Up to that point, Lee said Abbott had “done a very good job of drawing people’s attention to issues where they had an advantage.” He also said Abbott has used his office’s power “very effectively” to garner massive media attention, noting Abbott’s buses of migrants to Democratic-run cities. And Lee credited Abbott’s campaign of targeting traditional Democratic voters with negative information, potentially depressing the party’s turnout.
Going forward, Lee said Democrats need to start campaigning earlier and build a “much more coordinated platform across the state.” While he and Evans said they expected O’Rourke to remain politically involved, Lee noted that Democrats “can’t count on someone like that every time.”
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