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Who Could Challenge Abbott for Texas Governor in 2022? Surprising Strawpoll Results.

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

Check back for updates posted as continue to analyze poll results:

The Republicans: Greg Abbott, Allen West, George P Bush, Sid Miller, Glenn Hegar, Christi Craddick, Chad Prather, Martin Holsome

The Democrats: Beto O'Rourke, Julian Castro, MJ Hegar, Wendy Davis, Lupe Valdez, Andrew White

The 3rd Party: Mark Tippetts, Kathie Glass, Kerry McKennon, Whitney Bilyeu, Dan Behrman, Wes Benedict, Kenny Webster, Bill King

The Independent, 3rd Party or Democratic Darkhorses: Mark Cuban, Matthew McConaughey

The Republicans: Greg Abbott, Chad Prather, Martin Holsome, Allen West, George P Bush, Sid Miller, Glenn Hegar, Christi Craddick

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to seek a 3rd term as Texas Governor. Abbott has strong campaign warchest, and handily cruised to victory in 2018 in a state that hasn't voted for anyone but a Republican statewide in almost 3 decades. Normally that's enough. But the genially high approval rating Abbott once enjoyed has taken a beating on both the right and left over his handling of the pandemic, and Texas Free Press web straw poll indicates he may be deeply unpopular now with both Republican and independent voters.

Only two Republicans have announced running against him, Radio Talk Show Host Chad Prather and Rusk City Councilman Martin Holsome and neither look to have the campaign fundraising, organization, platform or groundswell to mount a serious primary challenge, nor do they register strongly in the Texas Free Press survey, though Mr. Prather was in a distant third place among Republicans and while a small fraction of Mr. West's and Gov. Abbott's support did register over 10% of Republican preferred candidate responses for Republican candidates.

Several possible well known challengers could wait in the wings if they hint at an opportunity. Our polls are indicating Governor Abbott's performance is deeply unpopular with Independents at a 4:1 margin, and an even toss-up among Republicans, when asked whether they were happy, unhappy, neutral, or very happy or very unhappy with Governor Abbott's performance. New GOP Texas State Chair Lt. Col. Allen West, formerly Congressman for Florida of all places, looks to be the best positioned from the conservative right wing, having clashed with Governor Abbott very publicly over his pandemic policy. With a built in platform were he to run, creating a potential schism in the Republican party in Texas, and potentially even weakening the winner in the general election, Lt. Col West could be a more formidable primary opponent to Abbott than one would have imagined possible a year ago. The internal Texas Free Press strawpoll shows West outpolling Abbott among Independents, and outpolling him even among Republicans, with over half of respondents stating they would consider Mr. West, to just over one third for Mr. Abbott, a surprising result. Mr. West also outpolled the Governor as the preferred nominee for Republicans, with Governor registering less than one-third naming him as their preferred Republican candidate, a stunning result. Mr. West polled evenly with Governor among Independents as a preferred nominee if they were to vote Republican, well above the Abbott performance question, possibly indicating Mr. West might not be as strong a general election candidate for Republicans as the right wing might hope. Neither Lt Col. West nor State Party responded to our requests for comment..

Land Commissioner George P Bush, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick round out experienced statewide Republicans with name recognition who have been mentioned as possible candidates. Of those, surprisingly only Commissioner Bush polled meaningfully in our web strawpoll, and he polled better among Independents than Republicans. Sid Miller was not polled. Fmr State Senator Don Huffines has been on the Republican speaking circuit, and may also be considering a challenge.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar's campaign was the only Republican to respond to our request to comment on the record as to his 2022 plans for the Governor's race saying "Comptroller Hegar is focused on what will likely be a very challenging session which unofficially kicks off with the Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate tomorrow. Any decision regarding his plans for the 2022 election will be made after the session concludes." The other high profile state office holder, AG Ken Paxton, is battling his legal and ethics own issues, and likely faces primary challenges himself.

Bush (son of fmr Florida Gov Jeb Bush, nephew of Fmr President and Tx Gov George W Bush), Craddick (daughter of fmr TX House Speaker Tom Craddick), and Miller have the statewide name recognition, fundraising, and primary and general election experience to challenge Abbott. Bush was been linked to a 2022 primary challenge to Paxton for AG. Miller, a West Texas rancher and Fmr Tx House member has won two statewide wide contested primaries, who has broken publicly with Abbott on the pandemic response, may be the best positioned of the three to take advantage of Republican voter dissatisfaction with Abbott's performance. Miller, Bush, and Craddick's campaigns did not respond for comment.

The Democrats: Beto O'Rourke, Julian Castro, MJ Hegar, Wendy Davis, Lupe Valdez, Andrew White

The Democratic Party has not won statewide in Texas for almost three decades, coming within a few points in 2018 when Beto O'Rourke lost to Ted Cruz, only to see statewide results in 2020 fade.

Fmr Congressman and 2018 US Senate Nominee Beto O'Rourke, Fmr 2020 US Senate Nominee MJ Hegar, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Fmr HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Fmr Governor Nominee Wendy Davis and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner round out what would make a top tier were they to run.

Fmr State Senator Wendy Davis is coming off a disappointing 2020 Congressional loss to Chip Roy in CD 21, and after badly losing to Abbott in 2014, seems unlikely to try again or secure a second nomination in a crowded field, as is Ms. Hegar, who struggled to replicate the O'Rourke v Cruz lightning in a bottle in her race against John Cornyn, as Cornyn proved a formidable and better liked competitor than Cruz. Turner and Johnson, who remain generally popular within their party, and might make formidable Democratic primary opponents from their large Dallas and Houston voter and donor bases, have not indicated any plans, and are not as widely known outside their own city. Turner handily beat back a high profile, well funded right wing campaign from Tony Buzbee to win a second term, who beat out Independent fmr Kemah Mayor Bill King for the runoff. King had lost the previous race to Turner by only a few thousand votes.

Julian Castro and Beto O'Rourke are the two highest profile Democrats in Texas, and would have the strongest combination of fundraising ability, name recognition, organizational strength, and resume for a strong challenge, but neither has publicly announced or responded to our request for comment. Both have seen their stars fall a bit in prominence after failing to make an impression on the national stage in the 2020 Presidential primary. They are possibly gun-shy to launch another quixotic statewide crusade. And despite their resumes, neither have ever won a race outside of their hometown. We would expect were one to run, the other would not engage in what would be a bruising primary battle. They were however the only two possible candidates to notably separate from the noise as a preferred candidate for Democratic respondees, with O'Rourke materially ahead of Castro, or among Independents for Democratic candidates where O'Rourke and Castro polled fairly evenly and noticeably ahead of Davis and Hegar, who polled noticeably ahead of Turner. However, both Hegar and Davis polled close together, ahead of Turner, and around one third behind O'Rourke and Castro when Dems were asked who would they consider as a Democrat in the general election. Note, a majority of the Independent respondees indicated a preference for no Democrat, while a majority indicating a preference for a Republican, potentially suggesting a right leaning bias in the Independent respondees relative to the electorate in general. None of the Democratic campaigns responded to our request for a comment on the record regarding 2022 (though Mr. O'Rourke is unlikely to respond to my inquiries in any event, given his level of animosity toward my Senate campaign in 2018).

One other possibility is a reprise by Lupe Valdez the 2018 Governor nominee, or Andrew White, well-funded son of former Governor Mark White who lost to Ms. Valdez in 2018 primary. However neither's 2018 campaign generated the energy of O'Rourke's, and even with dissatisfaction with Abbott, they've made no public indications of another run, and we did not include them in our latest straw poll. So the Democratic field still remains open, and a dark horse candidate might certainly emerge from Congressional, Legislative, or business/celebrity ranks given the cracks in what had been a fairly solid Abbott position before the pandemic. Lizzie Fletcher, Carol Alvarado, Royce West, Henry Cuellar, Joaquin Castro, might be examples of such, but after 30 years from the outside looking in at the state level, the Democratic ranks with the organization and experience to run a competitive statewide campaign across the breadth of the Lone Star State are certainly thin. A meek 2020 statewide season after O'Rourke's failure in 2018 to break through against a flawed Cruz even with $70 mm and peripatetic campaign, has got to leave some of the stronger candidates with pause, and open the door for a darkhorse. Texas' size certainly makes it challenging to compete in, as even leading Congressional Reps, State Senators and Mayors tend not to have name recognition beyond their region.

The 3rd Party: Mark Tippetts, Kathie Glass, Kerry McKennon, Whitney Bilyeu, Dan Behrman, Wes Benedict, Kenny Webster, Mayor Bill King

Two 3rd Parties, the Libertarian and Green Party, have ballot access in Texas, and their convention nominees will be on the ballot, as will any Independents who secure enough signatures (a tall order for an Independent without significant funding). Texas will certainly vote for a darkhorse or independent with the right message and funding, as Ross Perot, Kinky Friedman, Carol Strayhorn have shown. In addition our voter analysis shows that despite its typical 1-4% electoral showing, between 20-30% of Texans, and in some counties 40%+, have voted for a Libertarian candidate in the recent election cycles, just not enough in one race at one time to win. While not expected to secure enough resources to seriously challenge to win, in a tight race, the Libertarian nominee could well be the difference maker.

The Libertarian Party generally has a contested convention. Neither of the most recent Governor's candidates, Fmr LP 2018 Gov Nominee Mark Tippetts (Libertarian), Fmr LP 2010, 2014 Gov Nominee Kathie Glass (Libertarian) and Harris County Chair, who lost a contentious 2018 convention to Tippetts, have announced plans or ran for office in 2020. Ms. Glass declined to comment, and Mr. Tippetts declined to comment for the record, except to say he is focused on his business, and considering future options. Ms. Glass recently led the election lawsuit victory for a number of libertarian candidates over the AG's office and Secretary of State. The Libertarian Party has historically run party insiders who have struggled to breakthrough fundraising or polling, and typically has better electoral results the farther down ballot. Ms. Glass was the last Libertarian Governor nominee to break 2%, in 2010.

Unless a strong darkhorse or a prior candidate emerges, the LP 2022 nomination would likely go to one of a number of party insiders, which this year might include popular insider and Fmr LP 2018 Lt Governor and 2020 US Senate Nominee Kerry McKennon (Libertarian) who expects to run for office again, but has been eyeing Panhandle down ballot races, well known former LP Texas and LP National Executive Director Wes Benedict, currently running an LP focused PAC backing candidates, and new party Chair Whitney Bilyeu (Libertarian). Others included fmr Vice Chair and longtime city government official Steven Harris who is currently running for Mayor of Hutto, and the highest ranking current elected Libertarian in Texas, Mayor Shannon Thomason of Big Spring, who just survived a recall. Neither were polled. To date, only Software Eng Dan Behrman (Libertarian), who ran a gimmick Presidential campaign for the LP nomination, and Software Eng Patrick Wynne (Independent) have announced, and neither look positioned for a major 3rd party or independent campaign. For this article Mr. Behrman, who while a registered Texas voter in San Antonio, may struggle to meet the Texas residency requirement for Governor, commented that he expected a contested LP nomination race, believed he could win it and would run a hearts and minds campaign, voicing strong feelings that the Governor's pandemic response has been mishandled. All potential Libertarian names included (Bilyeu, Tippits, McKennon, Berhman) polled in the mid 30s to mid 40s among libertarian respondees, with none showing a clear lead. Libertarian internal politics tends to be split between a smaller but vocal anarchist wing, and larger minarchist constitutionalist wing.

Two possible darkhorse 3rd party candidates, were they to challenge for the Libertarian nomination, could potentially have a general election impact, are Conservative and Libertarian Houston based Radio Talk Show Host Kenny Webster, Fmr Houston Mayoral Candidate Bill King. Neither are formally active in the party. Webster brings a highly popular, conservative talk show platform with a libertarian bent, and King in particular having lost to Mayor Turner by a few thousand votes in a very tight runoff for Mayor of Houston, and as the former small government, budget hawk Mayor of Kemah, would likely rank as the most skilled and experienced Independent politician in Texas. Neither has the platform to easily achieve ballot access and challenge statewide as an independent, but were either to secure the LP nomination, they could easily be difference makers against Abbott on the LP ticket. Mr. Webster has consistently declined overtures citing his employment commitments, but has not shut the door on future recruitment. When asked to comment on the 2022 Governor's race specifically, Mr. Webster stated, "I'd be honored but if I ran for office I'm pretty sure my employer would fire me." Mr. King, who has been noted as an advocate of change from the two party system, declined to comment to for the record, and has previously run as a popular Independent. Mr. King was not polled, and Mr. Webster polled between the grouping of party insiders and Mr. Cuban and Mr. McConaughey among libertarians.

No Green Party candidate has yet announced, and not enough Green Party responses were received to analyze. Party officials did not respond for comment on likely candidates, and while they are likely to fill the nomination, the Green Party has not mounted a serious campaign in Texas before, and only holds ballot access after a Republican election law change designed to put the party back on the ballot to siphon votes from Democratic candidates.

The Darkhorses: Mark Cuban, Matthew McConaughey

Two true darkhorses that have been mentioned however, are Actor Matthew McConaughey (Independent/Democrat), and Dallas Mavericks Owner and Tech Billionaire Mark Cuban (Independent/Libertarian). Our straw poll only included each as Independent and 3rd Party, not in the Democratic or Republican Primary, and we polled the Libertarian and Independent Candidates only using approval voting, and not top preference.

However both polled around 20% of Libertarian respondees, but lagged the known party insiders and talk show host Kenny Webster, in a sign of the challenges the LP has had recruiting high profile candidates. Of more importance, they appear to both outpoll all name brand candidates but Abbott and Allen among Republicans when asked who you would consider, and outpolled all candidates including Abbott, Allen, O'Rourke, and Castro and any Libertarian among Independents, but did not poll as well among Democrats as the 4 more well known leaders among the Democratic sampling. In another interesting twist, almost unanimously, Republican respondees indicated an unwillingness to support any Democratic nominee, despite their higher willingness to support Cuban or McConaughey as an independent or 3rd party than the Democrat respondees. However among the Democratic respondees, the unwillingness to support any Republican was far from unanimous and Republican RRC Christi Craddick, who had almost no straw poll support among Republicans, registering some small support among Democrats, if they were to support a Republican.

But were either Mr. Cuban or Mr. McConaughey to run in either primary, they would likely be formidable in either party with resources and name recognition they would bring, Were they to make it on the ballot as either an Independent or Libertarian, and bring substantial financial resources to a campaign, they would probably determine the race outcome at the least, and make life difficult for the major party nominees.

Neither has yet responded to requests for comment.

Note: the Texas Free Press strawpoll N: 300 1/11/21-1/17/21 was conducted anonymously by web survey to self identified Texas residents through Facebook, the website, and email. Questions were designed to identify relative voter interest levels by party affiliation of various prospective primary and convention candidates, and compare to performance approval happiness with Gov. Abbott. It does not make up a representative sampling of Texas voters, did not ask about prior or likely voting behavior, did not include race, geographic, or demographic questions, had variable respondee levels for the political party affiliations, rendering cross party affiliation and general election indication comparisons unreliable. Margin of Error has not been calculated. Bill King, Don Huffines, Lupe Valdez, Andrew White, Sid Miller, Wes Benedict, Steven Harris, Shannon Thomason mentioned in the article, were not polled. 3rd Party and Independent candidates were polled in aggregate for would consider supporting in the general, without preference asked. Republican and Democratic candidates were polled both as all would consider voting for in the primary, and preference for candidate in the general. Matthew McConaughey and Mark Cuban were polled as part of 3rd Party/ Independent question only. No announced or likely Green Party candidate was identified, and Green Party was polled as generic party candidate only. Author Neal Dikeman was not polled, and was the LP 2018 US Senate Nominee in a race including Beto O'Rourke.


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