The debate, the first and probably the only one of the candidates before the November election, begins at 7 p.m. central time in Edinburgh.

EDINBURGH, Texas — Immigration, abortion, the economy and guns are expected to be top topics of conversation Friday night as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott takes on his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, in their only debate scheduled before 11 November. 8 elections.

Abbott, who is seeking a third term, leads in the polls by single-digit margins and will seek to put his priority issue of border security at the forefront of the debate, as well as the country’s struggling economy under scrutiny. of the Democratic Party. President Joe Biden.

O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, is expected to attack Abbott’s resistance to gun restrictions after the Uvalde school shooting in May, his record on the state power grid that led to widespread power outages during last year’s deadly winter freeze and his support for the Legislature’s decision to ban nearly all abortions in the ‘State.

“This is a race where the choice between the two candidates couldn’t be clearer,” said Rebecca Deen, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “If you think of a Venn diagram, I’m not sure there’s an overlap. So you’re just going to see both people appealing to the things they know their constituents want to hear.

For Abbott, that means he’ll likely talk about the $4 billion he invested in Operation Lone Star, an attempt to slow the number of migrants entering the state by deploying thousands of law enforcement personnel. National Guard and Department of Public Security soldiers in the border and provide additional funding to local authorities in border counties seeing large numbers of migrants crossing their jurisdiction.

“The governor wants to highlight his concerns about border security,” Deen said. “He wants to blame President Biden for what he calls a ‘porous border,’ an increase in illegal immigration, the recent bus sponsorship [full of migrants] to northern cities. The way he talks about sharing the burden that Texas bears with the cost of undocumented immigration, all of those things are win-wins for the governor.

O’Rourke will have to walk a tightrope in acknowledging a problem at the border while outlining his vision for a better way to handle the large number of migrants arriving in Texas each day. This month, federal officials announced that the number of migrants encountered by authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border exceeded 2 million in fiscal year 2022, the first time the country crossed that threshold.

Michael Adams, a political scientist at Texas Southern University, said the immigration issue could give O’Rourke a chance to dabble in Abbott, especially on some of the more contentious parts of the border mission, like the bus transport of migrants to Democrat-run cities. .

“He would have to make the governor look like someone who is very callous and dismissive of immigrants,” Adams said. “He will want to push for a much more human approach.”

But that will be a challenge, as polls show Abbott’s border security policies are widely popular with Texas voters. A Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll this week showed that 54% of voters support Abbott’s efforts to bus migrants to cities in other states.

On the issue of abortion, O’Rourke should portray Abbott’s signing of a law banning nearly all abortions in the state as too extreme.

Sylvia Gonzalez-Gorman, a professor of political science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said Republicans, including Abbott, have struggled with some female voters since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down constitutional protections for abortion this summer and triggered a Texas law. which bans nearly all abortions in the state. O’Rourke has capitalized on this issue during campaign stops and is expected to address it during the debate.

“When it comes to the issue of abortion, it gets stickier because it doesn’t include abortion for incest, rape, [even] whether it is a young woman or a child. [Abbott’s] going to have a hard time navigating this space,” Gonzalez-Gorman said. “If you listen to the GOP talking points, there’s no consistent message for them.”

Democrats have bet on the issue to turn voters to their side this election cycle and saw promising signs last month when voters in Republican-led Kansas rejected an attempt to scrap abortion rights in the state. State.

But polls have shown little movement on the issue, Adams said.

“Beto was hoping the Dobbs decision would give them some traction, but there doesn’t seem to be much movement in terms of getting new female voters to come,” he said.

The two candidates will also likely discuss their approach to gun safety, with the May school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead still fresh in the minds of many Texans.

O’Rourke lobbied for gun safety measures and advocated raising the age of ownership of a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21. The families of Uvalde’s victims have joined him in this appeal and will hold a press conference before the debate asking Abbott to call a special legislative session to enact this change in Texas law.

But Abbott resisted that call, saying he didn’t believe it would be constitutional given recent court rulings on gun laws, despite such a law still being in effect in Florida. Abbott also faulted O’Rourke for his comments during his 2020 presidential race that he would take semi-automatic rifles away from gun owners, discouraging voters worried about their ability to own guns.

Gonzalez-Gorman said the Uvalde shooting changed the way some people view gun rights and gave O’Rourke an opportunity to appeal to parents worried about the rise in school shootings.

“Uvalde was a different way for people to talk about guns,” she said. “For maybe that undecided voter who has kids in school, that will be relevant to that voter.”

But Abbott remains firmly in the driver’s seat, Adams said, and will aim to dictate the tone of the debate by tying O’Rourke to Biden’s economic policies during a time of high inflation when some families are struggling to keep up. Cost of life. He can also draw attention to O’Rourke’s past comments supporting the Black Lives Matter movement when he complimented their efforts to “defund those elements that have over-militarized our police and instead invest that money in human capital. “. In July, O’Rourke pushed back at a town hall on the idea of ​​taking funds away from police departments and said he wanted to make sure officers had the resources and training they needed.

This could put O’Rourke in a difficult position as he must defend his past statements while trying not to alienate the independent voters he needs to close the gap with Abbott.

“He can’t go overboard on these issues because he would be painted as a liberal,” Adams said, adding that O’Rourke will want to try to portray himself as a “common-sense” politician who can work with Republicans. .

But even if O’Rourke manages to strike that balance, the independent voters he seeks may not get the message. That’s because the debate will take place at the same time as Friday night high school football games across the state, bringing live audiences to the only gubernatorial race debate.

That means candidates will have to think not just about how the live audience reacts to their positions, but how those talking points are used in post-debate newscasts and campaign ads.

“It’s always true in debates that sound bites are important,” Deen said. “But especially for this event because of the low likelihood of there being a large live audience.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.

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