Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is facing sagging approval ratings and an unlikely challenger as he seeks reelection next year — and he could be replaced by an unlikely outsider.
His main rival may not be former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the failed U.S. Senate candidate who’s been publicly toying with a run for governor.
It’s Oscar-winning actor and native Texan Matthew McConaughey, who trounced both Abbott and O’Rourke in a poll earlier this month from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler.
Sponsored: The truth about eggs and senior brains
That survey had McConaughey up 9 points on the governor, 44-35.
In what may be a major warning sign for Abbott, McConaughey picked up the support of 26 percent of Republican voters.
That may not sound like much.
But in 2018, just 4 percent of GOP voters crossed party lines to vote for Abbott’s rival, Lupe Valdez… and in the new poll, just 10 percent selected O’Rourke.
A jump to 26 percent for McConaughey could be a game-changer in Texas.
The same new poll found O’Rourke running behind Abbott by five points.
But even in winning that hypothetical matchup, Abbott finished well below 50 percent – and reflects a larger problem for him: His support has been in free fall.
The 3 foods that GROW cancer [sponsored]
After peaking at 56 percent in April 2020 – at the start of the coronavirus pandemic – his approval rating plunged to 41 percent, versus 50 percent who disapprove, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
Another poll, from Quinnipiac University, found 51 percent don’t want Abbott to remain in office, versus 42 percent who do.
If there’s any good news for Abbott, it’s that half the voters in that poll didn’t want O’Rourke or McConaughey, either.
But that increasingly may be the choice, with McConaughey quickly turning into an object of fascination in the political world.
And McConaughey, who won Best Actor in the 2014 Academy Awards for his role in 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club,” seems to be teasing his potential supporters by remaining noncommittal while also dropping some strong hints.
In one recent interview, he played up his outsider credentials.
“I’m more of a folk singin’, philosopher, poet-statesman than I am a per se definitive politician,” he told the Set It Straight: Myths and Legends podcast.
Sponsored: WOW! They lost 23 Pounds! [STUDY]
When asked directly if he plans to run, McConaughey turned the question around.
“Let me ask you, in your opinion, do you think public office is the category where I could most be useful in that way?” he asked, then admitted he’s “measuring” a potential candidacy.
But he did it in a very McConaughey-esque way.
“I’m measuring what is my category, what is my embassy, because I have to remain a storyteller,” he said. “I’ve been given that gift. I love doing it, I have to remain an artist.”
O’Rourke certainly seems to be feeling the heat, taking some not-so-veiled shots at his potential rival in an interview over the past week. He told Kara Swisher during a New York Times podcast interview that McConaughey is “a really popular figure whose political views have not in any way been fixed.”
And he said McConaughey may not pass the 2020 litmus test for Democrats.
“I don’t know, for example, who he voted for in the most consequential election since 1864 in this country,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t know how he feels about any of the issues that we’ve brought up.”
But O’Rourke also pointed out that McConaughey helped after the mass shooting in El Paso in 2019.
“I’ve been so impressed by how he’s used his celebrity and star power to help others,” he said, calling him a “great actor” and describing himself as a fan.
That could change quickly in the coming months if the two find themselves competing for the same voters.
— Walter W. Murray is a reporter for The Horn News. He is an outspoken conservative and a survival expert.