Gov. Greg Abbott won his Republican primary outright, capping a year during which he faced vocal challengers from his right.
While largely expected, the decisive victory allows Abbott to fully focus on the general election, where he will face Democrat Beto O’Rourke.
Decision Desk HQ called both Abbott’s and O’Rourke’s primary wins shortly after 8 p.m.
For months, Abbott’s primary opponents hounded him over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, criticizing his executive orders in its early stages — which included a statewide mask mandate and business shutdowns — and alleging he had not fought hard enough against local mandates. They also accused Abbott of not doing enough to secure the Texas-Mexico border, even as he combated illegal immigration with unprecedented steps for a governor.
Polling long gave Abbott a wide lead over his challengers, though the primary continued to attract attention because it seemed at times that Abbott was governing in response to the criticism from his right. For example, in October, Abbott issued a ban on all COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including by private businesses, even though his office had previously said they should be able to decide on their own.
Still, Abbott publicly ignored his primary opposition, and his campaign dismissed the idea that the governor was tacking right because of them.
Primary candidate Don Huffines in particular claimed credit for pushing Abbott to the right. A former Dallas state senator who served one term before losing reelection in 2018, Huffines tapped his and his family’s fortunes to self-fund his campaign to the tune of seven figures. He also received heavy financial support from some of the state’s top hard-right donors, like Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks.
Allen West, coming off a short tenure as Texas GOP chair that was fraught with questions about his political ambitions, was better known than Huffines and ran less of an explicitly anti-Abbott campaign. He still worked to position himself to the right of Abbott when it came to issues like pandemic management and border security.
The primary got a late jolt in December when, on the last day of the filing period, someone named Rick Perry threw his hat in the ring. It was not the former governor, but a man from Springtown who was working with a Huffines supporter.
It does not appear many voters were fooled, however. Perry was receiving about 3% of the vote early Tuesday night.
Abbott had tremendous advantages in his primary, including a war chest that at one point topped $65 million. And he put it to use, spending $15 million from Jan. 21 through Feb. 19, including on TV ads that pitched him as tough on the border. He barnstormed the state from early January onward, making 60 campaign stops across the state.
Abbott had the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who backed Abbott in June for reelection. It was an early blow to Abbott’s intraparty critics, and Trump stood by Abbott even as his challengers sought to undermine the governor’s pro-Trump credentials in recent months.
Abbott also had to deal with meddling in his primary by a fellow Republican state leader, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Patrick, who is close to Trump, sought to get Abbott’s predecessor, Rick Perry, to challenge Abbott in the primary, The Texas Tribune reported last month. Patrick insisted it was only in the event that Abbott did not run for reelection, but there was never any sign of that.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.