After his failed presidential run, Mr. O’Rourke faces the challenge of demonstrating to Texas voters that he is focused on the state’s issues and not on the national spotlight. His advisers appeared to be aware of the need to remind voters of the actions Mr. O’Rourke has taken in Texas, particularly after the storm in February. Mr. O’Rourke solicited donations for storm victims, organized wellness checks for seniors and delivered water from his pickup truck.
His organization, Powered by People, has also helped to register voters — nearly 200,000 since late 2019, according to the campaign — and Mr. O’Rourke raised around $700,000 to support Democrats in the Texas House after many fled to Washington to block a restrictive voting measure that ultimately passed.
Takeaways From the 2021 Elections
Democratic panic is rising. Less than a year after taking power in Washington, the party faces a grim immediate future as it struggles to energize voters and continues to lose messaging wars to Republicans.
Democrats had been urging Mr. O’Rourke to jump into the race for months, and he had begun to strongly consider doing so by late summer as he called around to Democratic leaders in the state. With the election a little less than a year away, no other major Democrat has entered, leaving Mr. Abbott’s advisers to consider a range of messages to attack Mr. O’Rourke as too extreme for Texas. They are likely to focus on comments he made about guns and the border wall during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
“Republicans didn’t need a lot of reason to turn out and have intensity, but this is going to juice it,” said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin political consultant who is the chairman of the Republican Party in Travis County, referring to Mr. O’Rourke’s entering the race. “It’s going to be kryptonite for Democrats in suburban areas, and it’s going to be rocket fuel for Republicans in rural areas.”
Well before Mr. O’Rourke’s announcement, the governor’s campaign began releasing digital ads featuring montages of those statements, including one from a 2019 debate that has come to define what some Texas political observers see as Mr. O’Rourke’s uphill battle.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Mr. O’Rourke said, to applause from the crowd.
At the time, his presidential campaign promoted a shirt with those words. His Texas campaign is likely to take a different tack, however.