Gov. Greg Abbott, Beto O'Rourke hold debate in race for Texas governor

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O'Rourke met for their first — and probably only — in-person debate in the Texas governor's race at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg.

Abbott's campaign messaging has centered on the economy and border security, while O'Rourke has campaigned largely on abortion rights and gun control. Recent polls show that the race could be the closest Texas gubernatorial election in more than 20 years, although Abbott continues to maintain his lead against O’Rourke by 5 or more percentage points.

Greg Abbott vs Beto O'Rourke:5 key takeaways from Texas governor debate

TX governor's debate:Beto O'Rourke needed a debate knockout against Greg Abbott. Did he land it?

PolitiFact: O'Rourke mostly true that Texans are paying $20 billion more on property taxes.

O'Rourke said that Texans are paying $20 billion more on property taxes since Abbott took office in 2015, referring to a report by Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.

However, an expert told PolitiFact Texas that the state just sets the rules for property tax rates for local jurisdictions. It is local jurisdictions that decide the rates, not the state.

- Staff writer Nusaiba Mizan

'He just makes this stuff up:’ Abbott and Beto trade criticisms in debate

O'Rourke used almost every question as an opportunity to paint Abbott as ineffective and harmful to the state.

"He's been governor for eight years," O'Rourke said several times, following with criticism of Abbott policies in immigration, the electric grid and teacher retention.

Abbott just as frequently challenged O'Rourke's command of the facts, accusing his opponent of flip flopping on the issues and lying about his policies.

"He just makes this stuff up," Abbott said after O'Rourke attacked his response to the power grid's failure in 2021.

"It's all facts," O'Rourke shot back.

- Staff writer Chuck Lindell

Texas teachers promised a pay raise — by both candidates

O'Rourke promised to raise teachers' pay if he's elected, saying educators shouldn't have to work two or three jobs to stay afloat.

Abbott responded that he has "provided more funding for education than any governor in this state's history. And, he too wants teachers to get paid more.

- Staff writer John Moritz

More:Austin, Central Texas districts scramble to hire hundreds of teachers

PolitiFact: O'Rourke's makes claim on the number of rape offenses in Texas

In response to a mention of Texas' restrictions on abortion implemented under Abbott, O'Rourke said more women have been raped in the state of Texas than in any other state.

PolitiFact Texas fact-checked a similar claim, which found from point-in-time FBI data that Texas reported a higher number of rape offenses in 2020 compared to other states.

- Staff writer Nusaiba Mizan

PolitiFact: O’Rourke mostly true on claim that Texas ranks dead last in mental health care access

During the debate, O’Rourke said “we are dead last in the nation when it comes to mental health care access.”

O'Rourke is referring to a Mental Health America state ranking on mental health care access. PolitiFact fact-checked the claim — which O’Rourke has made before — in May and found it to be Mostly True.

- Staff writer Nusaiba Mizan

Sparks fly between O’Rourke, Abbott on immigration on Texas border

It didn't take long for Friday night's gubernatorial debate to turn testy with an extended conversation on immigration policy at the state's southern border.

Abbott accused O'Rourke of advocating for "open borders" and mischaracterizing his efforts to crack down on immigrant crossings.

"He said months ago, there is no problem on the border. He says that he would reduce immigration enforcement," Abbott said.

O'Rourke fired back, criticizing Abbott for "hateful rhetoric" and "treating human beings as political pawns" with a busing program sending migrants to Democratic-run cities.

"He's going to try to lie about my record and he's going to distract from his failures, whether it's his failure to keep the lights on in the grid, his failure to address school shootings," O'Rourke said.

Abbott insisted that the busing program was intended to help communities overwhelmed by failed federal policies under President Joe Biden.

- Staff writer Chuck Lindell

More:Gov. Abbott says raising minimum age to buy assault-style rifles is unconstitutional

PolitiFact: Abbott claims it's unconstitutional to raise the minimum age to purchase AR. Experts disagree

During the debate, Abbott said a recent federal court of appeals decision said it was unconstitutional to raise the age from 18 to 21 for a person to buy an AR-15. He added any attempt to raise the age would be overturned.

A fact-check from PolitiFact Texas, published Sept. 21, rated this claim — which Abbott has made before — Mostly False. The California court decision regarding raising the age from 18 to 21 to sell semi-automatic rifle was vacated and remanded to the lower courts. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue.

- Staff writer Nusaiba Mizan

Guns, mental health come into play at Texas governor's debate

Abbott says "I feel their pain" in response to a question about the Uvalde massacre, but he insists limits on gun rights is not the solution.

"We want to end school shootings but we can't do that by making false promises," the governor said before pivoting to mental health as the cause of mass violence.

O'Rourke say he's taking his lead from the Uvalde families who have pleaded for action to raise the age to purchase to assault-style rifles to 21.

- Staff writer John Moritz

Texas governor’s debate begins with questions on border, immigration

The Texas governor's debate in the Rio Grande Valley started, predictably, with a question about the border and immigration.

Abbott attacked "Joe Biden's failure" on immigration, while O’Rourke said Abbott's Operation Lone Star "has clearly failed." Operation Lone Star, an immigration and border security program the governor launched in March 2021, deployed thousands of National Guard troops and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to the Texas-Mexico border.

Both Abbott and O'Rourke have 60 seconds to answer a question, 30 seconds to respond to follow up and up to 30 seconds for rebuttals.

Neither candidate provided an opening statement, although they’ll have 30 seconds to provide a closing statement.

- Staff writer John Moritz

More:Fact-check: Is there a 'record number of people coming across the border illegally'?

Uvalde families travel to Edinburg to rally for Beto O'Rourke ahead of debate

About 35 relatives of Uvalde school shooting victims traveled 280 miles to the Rio Grande Valley to rally in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke on Friday, just hours ahead of his debate with Gov. Greg Abbott.

Since the May shooting at Uvalde's Robb Elementary School, families of the victims have been demanding lawmakers take action to prevent another similar tragedy, including raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, instituting red flag laws and requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.

Abbott has ignored their pleas to call a special session of the Legislature and called the prospect of raising the minimum rifle purchase age "unconstitutional" — an argument that gun control activists have disputed, pointing toward other states, including Republican-dominated Florida, that have adopted similar laws.

On Friday, several parents who lost their children in the Uvalde massacre urged Texans to vote for O’Rourke, who strongly supports the gun restrictions backed by the parents.

"I'm speaking directly to moms when I say our babies’ lives are on that ballot. It happened to me, it can happen to you, and this pain, it'll bring you to your knees begging for an end,” said Kimberly Mata-Rubio, mother of Lexi Rubio, who was killed in the May 24 shooting.

- Staff writer Niki Griswold

Ex-Texas House speaker: Pressure is all on O'Rourke in debate

About an hour and 15 minutes before the start of the debate, former Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Luis Saenz, Abbott's chief of staff, were waiting outside the UT-RGV Performing Arts Center for their credentials.

Asked what he expected from the only one-on-one matchup between Abbott and O'Rourke heading toward the Nov. 8 election, the Republican Bonnen said the pressure was on the Democrat.

"Beto's got to do something big or he's not going to win," said Bonnen, who left office after the 2020 election cycle. "The polls (which show Abbott with a consistent lead) have been pretty steady. Crime and immigration are the biggest issues, and they don't favor Beto."

Saenz and Bonnen were headed to a private reception room where both candidates are allowed to bring guests to watch the debate, but not in the hall, which will not have a studio audience.

O'Rourke invited family members of the May 24 massacre in Uvalde's Robb Elementary School, while the Abbott camp invited border county sheriffs to the private reception.

- Staff writer John Moritz

Who will be moderating, asking questions at the debate?

Britt Moreno, an evening news anchor at KXAN, will be hosting the debate, which will include questions from a panel of journalists.

The panel includes Sally Hernandez, the anchor of KXAN’s morning show, Gromer Jeffers, a political reporter at The Dallas Morning News and Steve Spriester, an anchor at KSAT in San Antonio.

The panel will be asking questions to each candidate, including some from voters that are focused on such topics as immigration, gun violence, and abortion rights.

Where to find Abbott-Beto debate watch parties in Austin, RGV

O’Rourke and Abbott’s campaigns are both holding debate watch parties in the Rio Grande Valley, but if you’re not there, you can attend one that local organizations are holding in Austin. Here’s where to find them:

In Austin:

  • The Travis County Democratic Party is hosting a watch party from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Ani's Day & Night, 7107 E Riverside Drive.

  • In Round Rock, the Williamson County Democratic Party's watch party will start at 6:30 p.m. at The Long Branch Saloon, 107 W. Main St.

  • UT Students for Beto is hosting a Kickoff and Debate Watch Party at Moody's Kitchen and Bar, 2530 Guadalupe St. Attendees are asked to RSVP for the event, which starts at 6 p.m.

In the Rio Grande Valley

  • The O’Rourke campaign is holding a watch party at the Real Del Valle Event Center at 4631 S Veterans Blvd in Edinburg starting at 6:00 p.m.

  • In McAllen, the Abbott’s campaign’s watch party is at the Embassy Suites at 800 Convention Center Blvd. at 6:30 p.m.

  • Mi Familia Vota, along with other organizations, is hosting its watch party at La Morenita Bakery at 1102 W University Dr B in Edinburg from 5 to 8 p.m.

More:O'Rourke proposes 4 town hall-style debates in Texas governor's race

What's on the line for Abbott, O'Rourke in the debate?

With Abbott consistently leading O’Rourke in multiple polls, the debate carries very different stakes for the two candidates. The highly anticipated matchup poses potential risks and rewards for both candidates, an opportunity to trade barbs face to face after months of launching attacks on the campaign trail and through political ads.

“Abbott has the most to lose given that the status quo is if nothing changes, he wins,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University. “For Beto, the debate is extremely important because it gives him the opportunity to perhaps shift the dynamic of the campaign or force Abbott to do or say something that he later regrets.”

In a state where Democrats have not won a statewide election in decades, Abbott is considered to hold a significant advantage in his bid to win a third term in the governor’s mansion. Abbott is further bolstered by his war chest of more than $45.7 million, based on the most recent campaign finance report covering February to June of this year.

O'Rourke will seek to attack Abbott’s record with a particular focus on his stances on gun access and abortion, given the recent mass shooting in Uvalde and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end constitutional protections for abortion. Both seismic events have had a mass mobilizing effect among Democrats nationally, giving the Democratic Party more optimism that the midterms might not bring the red wave that pundits had been forecasting.

- Staff writer Niki Griswold

Abbott 7 points ahead of O'Rourke in latest Quinnipiac poll

Abbott holds a 7-percentage point edge over O'Rourke, according to a poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University. It's the latest of several surveys that have found a single-digit lead for Abbott, but the difference is well outside the margin of error.

The Quinnipiac poll found 53% of likely voters favoring Abbott and 46% favoring O'Rourke. Perhaps most worrisome for O'Rourke, nearly all voters — 96% — who support a candidate in the race say their minds are made up about how they will vote.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, said the poll confirms that Republicans and Democrats are largely unified around their respective candidates. The poll found that 96% of Republicans favored Abbott, while 96% of Democrats favored O'Rourke.

"There's not a lot of wiggle room," he said. "This is going to be a very base versus base election, and there are likely a lot of people in the middle who may not choose to vote."

- Staff writer Skye Seipp

Here's what you need to know about Abbott, O'Rourke before the debate

Greg Abbott

  • Given name: Gregory Wayne Abbott

  • Date of birth: Nov. 13, 1957

  • City of birth: Wichita Falls

  • Where he grew up: Duncanville

  • Party: Republican

  • Family: Spouse, Cecilia; one daughter

  • Political career: Two terms as governor, three terms as Texas attorney general, five-and-a-half years as Texas Supreme Court justice

  • Profession before politics: Attorney

  • One personal trait: Before he was paralyzed when he was struck by a fallen tree, Abbott was a half-mile runner on his high school track team.

2022 Texas governor candidates:Who are Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke?

Beto O'Rourke

  • Given name: Robert Francis O'Rourke

  • Date of birth: Sept. 26, 1972

  • City of birth: El Paso

  • Where he grew up: El Paso

  • Party: Democrat

  • Family: Spouse, Amy; two sons, one daughter

  • Political career: Unsuccessfully sought the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, three terms as a congressman, six years as a member of the El Paso City Council (including one year as mayor pro tem)

  • Profession before politics: Co-founded Stanton Street Technology Group, an internet services and software company

  • One personal trait: Starting during his college years, he was a performing member of at least four punk rock bands.

- Staff writer John Moritz

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Gov. Greg Abbott, Beto O'Rourke debate in Texas governor race