Abbott, O’Rourke debate in Texas governor’s race: What to know, what they might say

AP

Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke will take the debate stage Friday for what is expected to be the only time during the Texas governor’s race.

The two have been in a heated race for governor, with recent polls showing Abbott holding a single-digit lead.

The candidates will debate at 7 p.m. at Edinburg campus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Texans across the state can tune into the hour-long debate hosted by Nexstar Media Inc. on the company’s various stations, including Dallas-Fort Worth’s KDAF Channel 33.

Here’s what to watch for when Abbott and O’Rourke take the state.

The ‘first and only’ debate

The Friday debate in the Rio Grande Valley is first between Abbott and O’Rourke, and the governor’s campaign on Thursday confirmed the Abbott doesn’t plan to participate in others.

“This is the first and only gubernatorial debate,” spokesperson Renae Eze said in an email.

O’Rourke’s campaign previously announced that the Democratic nominee has committed to several town-hall style debates and pressed Abbott to attend.

Friday’s debate is not in front of a live audience. Chris Evans, an O’Rourke spokesperson, said there are not opening remarks, but there is a 30-second closing remark for each candidate. KXAN News anchor Britt Moreno will serve as the host with questions coming from a panel of journalists, according to a news release from Nextstar Media Inc.

Border, police, abortion, guns

If recent advertisements and events are any indication, Abbott is likely to focus on the border and policing issues while O’Rourke highlights abortion and gun policy following the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

A recent poll from The Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin found that Texas voters trusted Abbott more to handle public safety and immigration and border security, but trusted O’Rourke on abortion policy. They tied on trust for handling gun violence.

Their messaging around the issues was in full swing the day before the debate. O’Rourke announced he was hosting a news conference before the debate where he’ll be joined by Uvalde families to push for raising the minimum age to purchase assault-style rifles from 18 to 21. Abbott’s campaign released a digital ad accusing O’Rourke of having inconsistent policy positions on border security, policing and energy.

2 candidates, 2 tones

The two candidates are likely to strike different tones as they take the debate stage.

“O’Rourke is passionate, he’s engaging, he’s intense,” “said University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “Abbott is reserved and measured and often quiet. So that’s a real contrast of style.”

O’Rourke will probably try to put Abbott on the offense on issues like abortion rights, gun control and the power grid, he said.

“Abbott has typically been very measured when he’s addressed these things, and he’s never had to do it in a hostile environment, so how he responds will tell us a lot about the kind of tenor of this race,” Rottinghaus said.

Debate is on the border

Rottinghaus predicted that the Latino vote will be the biggest swing vote in the governor’s race, which means both candidates will be trying to win over the potential supporters. Abbott announced he’d be door-knocking on Saturday in Harligen, where more than 80% of the population is Hispanic.

Latino voters are ideologically very diverse, Rottinghaus said.

“There are opportunities to be able to win various segments of the Latino vote,” he said. asked about the significance of the debate being held in a border community.