For Beto O’Rourke, talking about gun control has become both a political risk and a reward

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“He’s frustrated like me, like everyone else,” said State Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde and made his own cutoff at another Abbott press conference, urging the governor to call a special session of the Texas Legislature. pass gun control legislation.

Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign for governor is an uphill battle that some say remains virtually impossible in Texas, where Republicans have a firm grip on state power.

No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since November 1994 and no Democrat has held the governor’s mansion since January 1995, the last day in Governor Ann W. Richards’ term. Despite years of Democratic promises of a blue wave, Texas continues to embrace and enforce some of the most conservative policies in the nation. Democratic organizers continue to battle low turnout as Republicans made gains in South Texas border towns. And in the race for governor, Mr Abbott has a significant financial advantage – he had nearly $50 million in cash compared to Mr O’Rourke’s roughly $6.8 million as of February 19, according to the latest filings by the Texas Ethics Commission.

“Their outlook is bleak,” said Cal Jillson, a political analyst and professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “In a good year, they can win polling places and even some state legislative seats in Texas, but they haven’t been able to break through statewide, and 2022 won’t does not sound like a good year.”

For longtime Democratic strategists and activists working to make the state blue, recent electoral contests have made them both optimistic and worried. Mr. O’Rourke’s bid for the Senate in 2018 reinvigorated the party and helped swing the polls in favor of the Democrats, when he was less than three percentage points from unseating Senator Ted Cruz.

But Texas Republicans were helped by higher turnout in smaller counties in the 2020 election, and those largely rural areas shifted even further to the right. In a Republican primary runoff for attorney general two weeks ago, Ken Paxton, the Trump-backed incumbent, defeated George P. Bush, the state land commissioner and the newest member of the Bush family still in office.

Mr. O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso, framed the race between him and Mr. Abbott as a choice between former leadership beholden to the gun lobby and his vision of a state where “weapons of war” are removed from civilian life. . At the Dallas Forum on Wednesday, he said he rushed to the stage to confront the governor of Uvalde because he wanted someone to do the same after a mass shooting at a Walmart in his hometown. from El Paso in 2019.

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