WASHINGTON – Still mourning a mass shooting in Texas, Democrat Beto O’Rourke gave his campaign a boost by imploring a national audience that it was finally time for real action to curb the proliferation of high-powered weapons in his home state and across America.
It was 2019, and the former congressman was running for president when he explained during a debate“Damn yes, we’ll take your AR-15”, weeks after a A gunman aimed at Mexican immigrants killed 23 people at a Wal-Mart in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.
Last week after Massacre of 19 elementary school students and two teachers by an 18-year-old man with an AR-15-style rifle in Uvalde, Texas, O’Rourke — who is now running for governor — briefly grabbed the national political spotlight again. That meant this time Press conference crash of the man he wants to depose, Republican Gregory Abbottand declared – in a moment later widely shared across the internet – that the carnage “was weighing on you”.
O’Rourke is betting tragedy can restart the governor’s race in America’s biggest red state — despite Abbott’s previous re-election wins by landslides twice, starting the campaign with $55 million in the bench and despite Texas’ gun culture is larger than perhaps elsewhere.
It didn’t work in 2019. O’Rourke’s debate statement earned him praise from other Democrats on stage and a fundraiser. But he dropped out of the race almost six weeks later.
It’s too early to tell what will happen in the gubernatorial race, but the shooting has already affected both parties. Abbott canceled his scheduled visit to the annual National Rifle Association meeting to remain in Uvalde. Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, one of those, also skipped it Negotiations with democratic colleagues on strengthening background checks and “red flag” laws that allow authorities to remove firearms from people who are determined to pose a danger to themselves or others.
“I think it felt cathartic for a lot of people who might have been on the fence,” said Abel Prado, executive director of Democratic advocacy group Cambio Texas. “It gives you, ‘At least someone’s trying to get up and do something, or at least say something.'”
O’Rourke spent two nights in Uvalde after the shooting and then drove to Houston for an anti-gun violence rally outside of Friday’s NRA session.
“To the men and women in positions of power who care more about your power than using that power to save the lives of those you are meant to serve…we will defeat you and we will overcome you,” O’ Rourke told protesters who chanted his name and the phrase “Vote them out!”
Supporters hope O’Rourke regains the magic that made him one national democratic star and nearly upset the Republican Sen. ted cruz in 2018. But since then, O’Rourke’s White House bid has fizzled out, former President Donald Trump easily won Texas in 2020 and Democrats, who had hoped to turn over dozens of congressional and legislative seats in the state this year, lost nearly every top race.
Nor has a Democrat won the Texas governorship since 1990, and just last year the state relaxed gun restrictions enough to allow it virtually every resident aged 21 and older to carry firearms without a license. Abbott signed the law into law along with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and the group’s President, Carolyn Meadows.
Of course, the dominance of guns in Texas culture long predates the law. Abbott once tweeted his embarrassment that his state of California was lagging behind in gun sales, and Cruz is fond of saying, “Give me a horse, a gun, and an open plain and we can take over the world.” Former Republican Gov. Rick Perry drove to the 2010 Re-elected after killing a coyote with a laser sighted pistol while jogging.
Mass shootings aren’t new to Texas either. A mass shooting followed Tuesday’s massacre in Uvalde and the killings in El Paso Santa Fe High School outside of Houston that killed eight students and two teachers in 2018, and a church shooting Sutherland Springs The year before, 26 people died, including an unborn child.
Former Texas land commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican long known for carrying multiple guns almost everywhere he went, said that following his confrontation with Abbott, O’Rourke’s most fervent supporters “would be even more determined to stand up for… to vote for”.
Still, Patterson said the clash could backfire and alienate otherwise potentially sympathetic Swing voters who might think O’Rourke was putting on a self-serving show.
“Sometimes your method overwhelms your message, and his method has negated any use that he might have had,” said Patterson, who, as a state senator, authored the original 1995 Texas concealed handgun law that allowed Texans to carry firearms to take with you to more places than almost anywhere in Texas America back then. “I think it’s a net loss.”
Abbott hasn’t mentioned O’Rourke often since the shooting, but did answer questions about possible new state gun restrictions by slamming high crime rates in mostly Democrat-run cities.
“Every weekend, more people get shot in Chicago than in schools in Texas,” the governor exaggerated. Speaking of arguments that new gun restrictions could make Americans safer, “Chicago and LA and New York refute that thesis.”
Abbott’s campaign has also previously chided O’Rourke for his earlier stance on guns, producing an online advertisement last year that featured a cartoon of O’Rourke speeding the wrong way down a one-way street and then off a cliff, while the radio played clips of his “Hell yes” commentary and other strongly progressive positions he took as a presidential candidate.
O’Rourke’s campaign insists that he not use the massacre for political ends. She transformed her fundraising apparatus into one that accepts donations for loved ones of those killed in Uvalde, and says O’Rourke attended the Abbott press conference at the urging of one of the victims’ families.
He sat silently in the audience for more than 10 minutes, intending only to listen, the campaign said. But when Abbott said “there was no meaningful advance warning of this crime” other than the shooter posting about the shooting just before he began it, O’Rourke became furious — especially given that after the El Paso shooting, the Head of State The answer was to relax the gun laws. Approaching the stage, he accused Abbott of “doing nothing” even though Uvalde’s violence had been “entirely predictable”.
Also on stage was Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, who responded with obscenity, calling O’Rourke “sick” for trying to make the scruff “a political issue.”
But it still helped one Texan change her mind. Nicole Armijo, who works in her family’s HVAC business in the border town of McAllen and has three children, ages 10, 9 and 6, who attend public school. She didn’t vote for O’Rourke when he ran for the Senate, but plans to do so now because “the way we’re doing things isn’t working.”
“Maybe Texas isn’t just about having a gun,” said Armijo, who said she loves guns and hunting but would support expanded background checks. “Beto sort of portrayed those thoughts: It’s not about me or you. It’s about everyone as a whole.”
More on the shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/30/orourke-bets-shooting-will-shake-up-texas-governors-race/ O’Rourke bets the shooting will rock the Texas governor’s race