Nov 4, 2021 - Politics
What the 2021 elections mean for Beto O'Rourke in 2022
Beto O'Rourke speaking from a lectern.
Beto O'Rourke speaking on the steps of the Texas State Capitol on July 31. Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for MoveOn

Things look grim for Democrats running statewide in 2022.

Driving the news: The drivers of Tuesday night's GOP election wave spell big trouble for Democrats trying to flip red states blue, perhaps nowhere more than in Texas.

Zoom out: In Virginia, a state that trends Democratic, Republican Glenn Youngkin pulled an upset in the governor's race with an appeal to suburban swing voters.

  • His campaign promises included pledging to protect police funding amid rising crimes, rejecting COVID-19 vaccine mandates for teachers and state workers and vowing that schools will not "teach our children to view everything through a lens of race."

Youngkin's tactics, and the Republican strategies that led to an unexpectedly tight gubernatorial race in New Jersey, serve as a roadmap for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Abbott to hold onto power in Texas.

Democrats think their best shot at toppling Abbott is a run by Beto O'Rourke — already a long-shot given that Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.

  • Expect Abbott and other Republicans up and down the ballot to use phrases like "critical race theory" and "defund the police" until the cows come home, as they try to portray O'Rourke and other Democratic challengers as out-of-touch radicals.

Yes, but: If anyone can sway suburban voters, it's O'Rourke, who was a political darling in his statewide run against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, when suburban women nearly delivered him victory.

LBJ School of Public Affairs professor Steven Pedigo tells Axios that O'Rourke could take a positive lesson from Youngkin: Move to the middle.

  • "Can Beto, in his unique way, show that he's the moderate in the race?" Pedigo asked.
  • With Abbott taking on the social conservative mantel, and the U.S. Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe v. Wade in June, "the middle is wide open," Pedigo said.

The big picture: Beyond their anxieties about schools, police and the pandemic, how voters regard the performances of President Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress could be the biggest factors in Texas state politics come next year.

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