Texas politics is filled with rich drama featuring interesting characters and intriguing stories that often unfold on the national stage.
Lyndon B. Johnson, George HW Bush, George W. Bush, Ann Richards, Lloyd Bentsen, Barbara Jordan and Henry Cisneros are just a few of Texas size figures.
Over the past 20 years, the gubernatorial race has been a harbinger of political tides that have created new personas for the scene while illustrating the rise of the GOP and the Democratic Party’s efforts to emerge from the political wasteland.
Here’s a look at 20 years of gubernatorial races and the impact they’ve had on Lone Star politics.
Rick Perry vs. Tony Sanchez
The result: With George W. Bush in the White House, Rick Perry of Paint Creek became the flag bearer of the Texas Republican Party. He led a ticket that included John Cornyn for Senate, David Dewhurst and Greg Abbott for Attorney General.
They faced off against a group of Democrats dubbed the “Dream Ticket” in a race that would determine the course of Texas politics.
The so-called Dream Ticket was led by Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez, who poured more than $60 million of his own money into the race. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk was running for Senate, and former Comptroller John Sharp ran for lieutenant governor.
With the country reeling from the events of 9/11 and Bush a popular president, Perry and the Republicans easily won their races.
The following : Perry ushered in a new era in Texas politics and for the Republican Party.
The GOP took control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction, with members choosing Midland Republican Tom Craddick as speaker.
Under the watchful eye of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, Republicans in the Legislature have used their influence to redraw state congressional boundaries, leading many Democrats, including many moderates, to step down. The Republicans not only controlled the Legislative Assembly, but also the congressional delegation to Washington.
Perry vs. Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman, Carole Keeton Strayhorn
The result: Along with the Libertarian candidate, the 2006 general election ballot had five candidates for Texas governor.
Perry was at rock bottom politically, and there was speculation that U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison would challenge him in the GOP primary. But Hutchison chose not to challenge Perry and instead returned to the Senate to help Bush push his second-term agenda from the White House.
The Democratic Party nominee was Chris Bell, a victim of DeLay’s redistricting push that ultimately filed the ethics complaint that led to DeLay’s conviction for abuse of office and unlawful solicitation of campaign donations, which was later overturned.
The unusual race included two independent candidates: comedian, author and musician Kinky Friedman, and Strayhorn, a Republican comptroller who ran as an independent instead of challenging Perry in the GOP primary.
Perry won the contest with 39% of the vote. Bell was second. In January 2007, thunderstorms forced the Governor’s planned outdoor inaugural festivities to be moved inside the Capitol.
The following : The Democrats missed the chance to rally behind Bell, given that a strong turnout from party loyalists might have given them a chance to shoot a weakened Perry.
The Republicans had tough times on the horizon. Bush and the war in Iraq have become unpopular.
And after the economic collapse of 2007, Democrat Barack Obama became president and Texas Democrats came within two seats of taking control of the State House. Hutchison was now set to challenge Perry in 2010.
With Obama in the White House, the new conservative Tea Party movement swept the nation.
Perry vs. Kay Bailey Hutchison (primary), Bill White (general election)
The result: On the April 2009 deadline for filing his income taxes, Perry campaigned at several tea parties, including a well-attended event at a minor league baseball field in Fort Worth. Perry thumped his chest, hugged his supporters and shouted “Whoo!” to the crowd.
He is reborn.
In the highly anticipated primary contest against Hutchison, Perry criticized her for voting for the economic bailout, even though he had written a letter to congressional leaders asking them to do something about the crisis. At events, Perry supporters handed out play money called Kay Bailout bucks and wore pig snouts to mock her for bringing home funds for projects in Texas.
The Tea Party movement had developed a new kind of Republican, and Hutchison lost his challenge to Perry, who then defeated White, the former mayor of Houston, in the general election.
The following : Winning a third term as governor set Perry up for a presidential run in 2012, which was all but over after a debate in which he could not remember which of the three federal departments he would cut if he did. was elected. Perry also ran for president in 2016 during the rise of Donald Trump, then headed the very department he wanted to eliminate – energy.
The Tea Party movement resulted in huge gains for Republicans in 2010, including a huge majority in the Legislature.
Hutchison would complete a final term in the Senate, ending speculation that she would step down early. In 2012, tea darling Ted Cruz defeated Dewhurst in the GOP primary to win Hutchison’s empty Senate seat. Cruz defeated former state Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, in the general election.
Meanwhile, a new slate of Republicans awaited its turn, which would come in 2014.
Abbott vs. Wendy Davis
The result: During a special legislative session in 2013, then-state Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth donned pink Mizuno sneakers and staged a filibuster that temporarily stalled an anti-abortion bill who would close clinics. Davis has become a national figure. Against the advice of some advisers, she ran for governor against Abbott, who had recently served as attorney general.
Davis, a politics buff, couldn’t shake the association with abortion rights, which didn’t sit well with the deep red Texas Republicans.
Abbott beat her by 20 percentage points, leaving Democrats at their lowest point since 2010.
The following : The 20-point win gave Abbott and the state’s new leadership a conservative mandate. Dan Patrick was cemented as lieutenant governor and Ken Paxton, who enjoyed a rapid rise from McKinney state representative to senator with the help of the Tea Party movement, was elected attorney general. In 2015, he was charged with securities fraud and has yet to stand trial.
As the Tea Party movement began to die down and Obama prepared to leave the White House, a new era of republicanism emerged: Trumpism. In 2016, Trump was elected president with the help of donors from Texas and Patrick, which led to problems for Republicans midterm in 2018.
Abbott vs. Lupe Valdez
The result: With Trump in the White House, the GOP braced for typical losses the ruling party suffered in midterm elections. A year earlier, Republicans in the Legislative Assembly had pushed corner issues, including bathrooms that transgender residents could use, instead of responding to calls to address public education and transportation funding.
But for the first time since 1998, the governor’s race was a non-event. Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, struggled to raise more than $1 million. Abbott had a war chest of at least $50 million and won easily, but not as easily as he beat Davis.
The headline race of this cycle was former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke’s challenge to Cruz, who was seeking his second term in the Senate. The Republican incumbent won by 2.6 percentage points.
The following : Although Abbott sailed, voter repudiation of Trump led Democrats to win 12 seats in the Texas House and upset two congressional districts, including Colin Allred’s anger at Pete Sessions in Dallas.
Chastened Republicans responded with a 2019 legislative session that addressed education funding and other nuts-and-bolts issues.
Two years later, the Republicans were back on solid ground. Although Trump lost the White House to Democrat Joe Biden, Republicans retained control of the House and won all of their statewide races, including Cornyn’s re-election to the Senate.
The 2021 legislative session featured a litany of conservative laws, including one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation and an election bill that led to a series of quorum breakdowns by House Democrats until to its final adoption.
Democrats would immediately begin a campaign to recruit O’Rourke to run for governor after his failed 2020 presidential bid.
Abbott vs. Beto O’Rourke
The race so far: Abbott’s second term included the 2021 winter storm that left millions without power as well as several mass shootings, including the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 21 students and two dead teachers.
The governor, however, still enjoys a robust Texas economy relative to the rest of the nation. And he says O’Rourke’s liberal policy proposals would change the Lone Star way of life.
O’Rourke called Abbott a failure, but he was haunted by the ghost of his run for president, during which he took up unpopular progressive positions in Texas, such as his call to confiscate assault weapons.
Polls show Abbott with a lead.
A victory for O’Rourke would give Democrats their first Texas governor since 1994, when Ann Richards was in office. If Abbott wins, he’ll match Perry’s three terms, and it could be the last dance for the current set of Republican leaders.
Story by Gromer Jeffers Jr. and illustrations by Michael Hogue.
. How Republicans took control for two decades domination Texas