Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke faced off in their first and only televised candidate debate on Friday as the two battle for the Texas governor’s seat in a closely watched election.
The candidates covered a number of topics, such as immigration reform, gun violence, and abortion, as the two sought to paint the other as an extremist who is out of touch with Texas voters. The debate is important for O’Rourke as the former congressman trails Abbott in the polls, offering the Democrat a last-ditch effort to reach voters before Election Day.
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Here are the top four moments from the hourlong debate on Friday:
Front and center: Night begins with questions on immigration
The night began with questions focused on immigration reform, a hot topic in Texas as Abbott has made headlines for months after busing thousands of illegal immigrants to cities such as Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Abbott approved the transfer of the immigrants to cities led by Democrats, arguing the Biden administration has not done enough to secure the southern border. Most recently, the Texas governor garnered national attention after sending buses to Vice President Kamala Harris’s official residence in Washington last month.
“Beto just wants to perpetuate the open border policies and mischaracterize exactly what’s going on,” Abbott said. “He refuses to acknowledge that the city of El Paso, because they were so overwhelmed by Joe Biden’s open border policies, they too are having to bus migrants out of their communities because they have no way of keeping them there.”
Gun control in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting
The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May has taken center stage during the midterm cycle, with O’Rourke seeking to pinpoint the blame on the incumbent’s policies on gun control.
“Gov. Abbott’s grid failure is part of a pattern over these last eight years,” O’Rourke said, referencing the power crisis in Texas in February 2021 caused by severe winter storms that left at least 246 dead. “Warned about, for example, school violence and gun violence specifically against children, [and he] does nothing.”
The Texas Democrat continued: “Warned about problems within child protective services, our foster care program, [he] does nothing, and it gets worse. Warned before February 2021 that we had problems in the grid, he did nothing.”
O’Rourke has previously denounced Abbott for the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, confronting the Republican governor during a press conference one day after the shooting occurred. Abbott pushed back on O’Rourke’s claims that he “has not lifted a finger,” arguing he supports policies that would crack down on gun violence but maintained he is against enacting red-flag laws that would restrict one’s access to firearms.
“[I am] still against red flag laws for the reason that it would deny a lawful Texas gun owner their constitutional right to due process,” Abbott said.
Candidates spar on abortion rights
Abortion has become one of the most high-profile issues during the midterm cycle, particularly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade over the summer, ending nationwide access to the procedure.
After Roe’s reversal, Texas enacted its trigger law that bans the procedure after fertilization with no exceptions for rape or incest, making it a felony for anyone who seeks an abortion in the state. Abbott defended the law, arguing the state has made it easy to access emergency contraception.
“Not only should [contraceptives] be readily available, but the state of Texas is going to pay for it, to make sure it is available for [rape victims],” Abbott said. He then sought to paint his opponent as an extremist, claiming that “Beto’s position is the most extreme because he not only supports abortion of a fully developed child to the very last second before birth, he’s even against providing medical care for a baby who survives an abortion. He is for unlimited abortion at taxpayer expense.”
O’Rourke fired back, calling it “completely a lie. I never said that. And no one thinks that in the state of Texas. He’s saying this because he signed the most extreme abortion ban in America. No exception for rape, no exception for incest.” If elected, O’Rourke said he would reinstate abortion rights in the state.
O’Rourke seeks to clarify stance on police funding
The candidates also focused on policing reforms during the debate, with O’Rourke seeking to clarify his stance on defunding the police as Abbott has sought to paint the Democrat as a flip-flopper on the issue.
“He’s flip-flopped on defunding the police. Whether it’s one issue or another, he keeps changing positions,” the Texas governor said.
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Abbott has repeatedly tried to paint O’Rourke as a candidate who wishes to dismantle law enforcement, releasing ads with edited clips appearing to show the Democrat pushing to defund the police. The video clips were taken from a podcast interview in June 2020 in which O’Rourke voiced support for Black Lives Matter protesters who wanted “to defund these line items that have overmilitarized our police and instead invest that money in the human capital.”
O’Rourke’s campaign has rejected claims the Democrat wants to defund the police, calling Abbott’s ads untrue. When O’Rourke was asked if he backed defunding the police, he simply stated, “Of course, I don’t.”