The one and only Texas governor’s debate between Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke Friday night delivered a wide-ranging conversation between the candidates but was largely free of fireworks.
The debate, hosted at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley by Nexstar Media Group, covered immigration, guns, Uvalde, the power grid, abortion, law enforcement funding, teacher shortages and property taxes.
KSAT anchor Steve Spriester served as one of three panelists.
Democratic challenger O’Rourke is trailing by single digits in most polls, and political observers said he needed a big moment to motivate more voters to turn out, or pull voters away from Abbott.
After all, no Democrat has won a statewide election since 1992.
O’Rourke’s overall theme was telling viewers that Abbott has been in office for 8 years and the issues facing Texas today happened or worsened on his watch.
Abbott’s focus was to paint O’Rourke as an extension of President Joe Biden, particularly on immigration and guns.
Both candidates sparred over immigration to open the debate.
Abbott pointed at the record-setting number of unauthorized migrants who have crossed the border in the last year, during President Biden’s tenure.
O’Rourke criticized Abbott’s Operation Lone Star and busing program that has sent thousands of migrants to cities outside of Texas like Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.
Both candidates agreed that Operation Lone Star should be defunded, for different reasons. O’Rourke said the goal of the program is not being met, while Abbott said that the federal government should be picking up the tab.
Abbott and O’Rourke sparred over gun regulations in the state, particularly around whether the minimum age for Texans to purchase AR-15-type weapons from 18 to 21.
Abbott argued that a recent federal court ruling that found the state’s minimum age for pistol purchases — 21 — unconstitutional means that the state cannot pass a law to raise the age for semi-automatic rifles.
O’Rourke said he wants to raise the age because that’s what families of victims from Uvalde have pushed for. He said the only place an AR-15 or an AK-47 belongs is a warzone.
The two candidates sparred over the state’s response to Uvalde.
Abbott was asked about his now infamous quote “It could have been worse” from a press conference the day after the Uvalde massacre that left 19 students and two teachers.
Abbott said he was misled by people who described the police’s response and that now that he has seen the videos of officers crowded in the school’s hallway but not taking action.
“There should be accountability for law enforcement at every level,” Abbott said.
Law enforcement, crime
Abbott asked if he’s moved too far to the right
O’Rourke asked why he’s run for several political offices
Follow along with live tweets from KSAT journalists covering the debate below.
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