AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ surprisingly close Senate race and record-smashing turnout in early voting isn’t giving Republican Gov. Greg Abbott jitters as he breezes into Tuesday’s midterm on the brink of a second term.
A far bigger test looms after the election.
Democrat Lupe Valdez, the former sheriff of Dallas, was a longshot from the start against Abbott and never put together a serious statewide campaign. Her base of Texas liberals have largely overlooked her run and instead poured their energy — and tens of millions of dollars — behind Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s high-profile Senate run and congressional challengers.
It has left Abbott, 60, poised to follow Rick Perry and George W. Bush as Texas Republican governors who handily won re-election and elevated their national profile in the process.
An Abbott blowout would also serve as a stark reminder of the work still ahead for Democrats in Texas, regardless of whether O’Rourke upsets Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Last year, Abbott signed the toughest “sanctuary city” ban in the U.S. and was the only governor to push for a North Carolina-style bathroom bill targeting transgender people, two highly divisive issues that have spelled trouble for Republican officeholders elsewhere.
But in Texas, Abbott is on the verge of being safely rewarded with four more years, which are likely to include more efforts to restrict abortions and immigration crackdowns.
But a bigger challenge awaits Abbott after Tuesday. He is out to reassert his power after failing last year to mend bitter party infighting in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and lawmakers brushed off many of his policy demands after Abbott dragged them into a special session.
Abbott, who doesn’t carry a big Texas persona like his predecessors, was also unsuccessful in driving out two of his biggest Republican critics this year after campaigning for their primary opponents.
He has looked far more dominant in his own race. Valdez, 71, is a barrier-breaking candidate who would become Texas’ first openly gay, Hispanic governor if elected. But liberal Hispanic activists were turned off by her record cooperating with federal immigration agents during her 12 years as Dallas County sheriff.
And early on the campaign trail, Valdez stumbled while showing a lack of depth on issues and policy.
She struggled to break even $1 million in fundraising and hasn’t aired television ads. She was set to spend the last hours of the race Tuesday visiting polling location to support other Democratic candidates.
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