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Abbott and O’Rourke face off in the only scheduled debate in governor’s race

Abbott and O'Rourke.JPG
Patricia Lim & Gabriel C. Pérez
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke.

The debate from the Rio Grande Valley took place as O’Rourke continues to trail in the polls

Texas voters got their first and only chance to watch the candidates for Texas governor go head-to-head Friday night as incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke debate live from the Rio Grande Valley.

The debate at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was hosted by NEXSTAR media group. It’s the only debate both camps have agreed to, despite O’Rourke’s campaign asking for more face-to-face contests in a matchup that’s garnered the most attention of all the statewide races on the ballot in November.

Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 24 and runs through Friday, Nov. 4. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The gubernatorial debate will be hosted by KXAN news anchor Britt Moreno, and the panel of journalists asking questions include Sally Hernandez of KXAN, Gromer Jeffers of The Dallas Morning News, and Steve Spriester of KSAT San Antonio, KXAN reported.

Several of Texas’ public radio stations will also carry the debate live. You can find your local station here.

O’Rourke, a former city council member and congressman from El Paso, is looking to be the first Democrat elected to a statewide office in Texas since the mid-1990s. Gov. Abbott was first elected to the position in 2014 and is seeking his third term. He was previously the state’s attorney general.

Recent polling indicates O’Rourke is still the underdog. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed that 53% of likely voters plan to cast their ballot for the incumbent while 46% said they support O’Rourke.

Abbott has made border security a main theme of his campaign and has painted O’Rourke as a standard bearer of what Republicans call President Joe Biden’s “open-border” policies. O’Rourke’s camp has hit Abbott on gun control, an issue which was thrust into the headlines after another mass shooting in Texas — In May a gunman killed 19 children and two schoolteachers at a Uvalde elementary school. Access to abortion is another key issue that separates the candidates.

Both campaigns have events planned around Friday's debate. O’Rourke will meet families from Uvalde who have been pressuring Abbott to call a special session of the Texas Legislature to address gun reform, specifically raising the age to purchase an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21. That event will be held in Edinburg at 1 pm Friday. Abbott will meet with supporters at a watch party in McAllen immediately after the debate. The next day, he’ll speak at the Texans for Greg Abbott and Texas Victory Weekend breakfast in Harlingen.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar