The rise of solidly red and solidly blue states has led to a political system in which, for some, the primary is the main game and the election an afterthought. Last year, here in Texas, when Ted Cruz beat David Dewhurst for the Republican nomination, he knew he had effectively become a Senator of the United States. Greg Abbott, who is seeking to become the Republican nominee for the governorship of Texas, is not completely assured of victory if he succeeds in his quest to become the GOP’s candidate. But the odds are pretty good. For one thing, Abbott already has $18 million in cash on hand.
This afternoon, in the blazing hot San Antonio sun at the Plaza Juarez in historic La Villita, Abbott launched his campaign. “I am asking you — the people of Texas — to elect me as your next governor.” The crowd cheered.
Abbott presented himself repeatedly as a “fighter,” reminding the crowd of his roles in defending a statue of the Ten Commandments that was under threat of being removed from the grounds of the State Capitol in Austin, in defending Second Amendment rights at the Supreme Court, and in suing the Obama administration “the very day Obamacare was signed into law.” “If you want to start a fight with Texans, just try taking away their freedom,” he laughed.
Abbott struck a decidedly populist note. At the start of the event, his staff handed out signs that read, “Fast cars, firearms, and freedom – Endorsed by Greg Abbott,” and he promised to “fight for working middle class Texas,” contending that “it’s high time that people on Main Street benefit just as much as folks on Wall Street.” If elected, Abbott promised “we will help all Texans climb the ladder of success, not with Obama-style mandates and handouts, but with a level playing field that gets government out of the business of picking winners and losers.” Part of this would be education reform, to which he returned frequently, talking about his adopted daughter in the process.
Having established his political bonafides, Abbott then adumbrated his moving life story, explaining how he was paralyzed when, in a freak accident 29 years ago to the day, a tree fell on him while he was out running. His spine was shartered permanently and he has been in a wheelchair since. This story served as an overture for Abbott to introduce his wife, who he said had lived up to her “for better or for worse” marriage vows: “If you want to know the meaning of love look no further than my wife Cecilia.” Then, returning briefly to the fighter theme, Abbott joked, “Some politicians talk about having a spine of steel. I actually have one!”
This event was a busy one, with hundreds of spectators and a gaggle of press. San Antonio appears to have a special resonance for Abbott. “This is where Cecilia and I got married at Our Lady of the Lake, 31 years ago,” he told the crowd. “Our marriage wasn’t just the joining of two families. It was a uniting of cultures: My Anglo heritage and Cecilia’s Irish and Hispanic heritage.” In another nod to Texas’s particular ethnic mix, the candidate noted that “the story of my family is as old as the story of Texas itself: the uniting of cultures to create one unique people, Texans.”
But the scale of politics will soon shrink for the candidate. Over the next four days, Abbott will fly around the state, meeting with prospective voters in diners and BBQ joints in Houston, Lubbock, Wichita Falls, Longview, Duncanville, and Austin, among others. It is a role he seems destined to play well. His easy style and populism lend themselves to such gatherings. He is advantaged also by his experience across the state: “I have lived in virtually every region of the state,” he told the crowd, “from the Panhandle South Plains to the Piney Woods of East Texas; from Houston to the Hill Country; from the Metroplex to right here in San Antonio. All have been home for me.” From what I saw today, I wouldn’t bet against his adding the governor’s mansion to the list.