Feb 7, 2022 - News

Abbott and O'Rourke place bets on Texas winter storm

A side-by-side photo of Gov. Greg Abbott (left) and Beto O'Rourke.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke. Photos: Brandon Bell/Getty Images and Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Gov. Greg Abbott and likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O'Rourke had divergent political interests when it came to the power grid's stability ahead of the latest winter storm.

  • And the fact that the lights stayed on this time around is good news for Abbott, who is up for re-election this year.

Why it matters: The arctic cold front that arrived in Central Texas last week was nowhere near as severe as last February's storm, but it was largely viewed as a test for the grid.

Both candidates placed their bets, with Abbott vowing the grid would hold up. Drawing attention to last year's crisis, O'Rourke launched a power grid-themed campaign tour with stops in 20 cities.

  • As the storm neared, Abbott hedged on his promise, saying "no one can guarantee" the power would stay on.
  • O'Rourke pounced on the shift, tweeting a video of Abbott's departure from earlier remarks. He added: "I will keep the lights on in Texas. This guy clearly can't."

But the grid hung in, and that could spell trouble for O'Rourke.

What they're saying: "Abbott's initial odds-on bet that a collapse on the scale of the 2021 event is unlikely to repeat itself between now and November, in purely political terms, will have paid off," wrote James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

  • It wasn't an unreasonable gamble for O'Rourke, Henson added.
  • The group's polling found that the share of voters approving of how state leaders and the Texas Legislature have handled the reliability of the electric grid decreased from 22% last June at the end of the regular session to 18% by October.

What's next: O'Rourke kicked off his "Keeping the Lights On" tour in El Paso on Friday, saying he's "so gratefulā€ that the weather was more mild than last February's, "but there's a reason you are seeing record sales of power generators. ... So many people had a traumatic reaction" to the forecast.

  • Abhi Rahman, a spokesperson for the O'Rourke campaign, told Axios it's "a super low bar" if keeping the power on is good news for Abbott.
  • "What happened last year was a traumatic experience for Texans, and although Texas got lucky this year, the panic and fear of another grid failure is going to be the main takeaway for Texans coming out of this," Rahman said.

The bottom line: This won't be the final time Texans hear about the grid, but O'Rourke will have to shift gears to meet the public's short attention span this far ahead of the November election.

  • But hey, spring is around the corner. Summer brownouts, perhaps?
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