Texas' Greg Abbott Compared to Putin by Beto O'Rourke as He Trails in Polls

In a series of mutual attacks months ahead of the 2022 election that will decide whether former congressman Beto O'Rourke can defy recent polls and unseat Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the governor has criticized O'Rourke's voting record from his time in the House. O'Rourke, meanwhile, has called Abbott an "authoritarian" and a "thug" and compared him to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At an event last week during the South by Southwest festival, O'Rourke said the state's energy crisis during a winter storm last year and restrictions on mail-in voting, among other election issues, are comparable to Putin's actions in Russia.

Polling in the months leading up to Texas' primary election on March 1, the first in the nation ahead of the 2022 midterms, has shown the GOP governor with a steady lead over his Democratic challenger, according to polling data compiled by RealClearPolitics. Overall, the polling data shows Abbott with a nearly 9 percent lead. Two polls from January and February each placed Abbott 7 percent ahead of O'Rourke.

"You think this stuff only exists in Russia or in other parts of the world? It's happening right here," O'Rourke said at the March 12 festival, comparing Texas' election restrictions to election circumstances in Russia. "You think they rig elections in other parts of the planet? It is the toughest state in the nation in which to vote, right here."

The former congressman also repeated criticisms of Abbott related to the state's energy crisis in early 2021 when thousands of people across Texas lost power during a winter storm and others saw their energy prices increase significantly.

He said the energy companies and executives who were allowed to profit from the storm and blackouts and later donated to Abbott's campaign are American versions of Russian oligarchs whom the U.S. and other countries have sanctioned in recent weeks for their ties to Putin following his decision to invade Ukraine.

In recent weeks, Abbott's campaign has ramped up attacks on O'Rourke's voting record while he was in the U.S. House. Specifically, the Abbott campaign has pointed to O'Rourke's voting against more severe sanctions on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea and his opposition to a bill that would have allowed for expansion of the state's natural gas industry, according to The Dallas Morning News.

O'Rourke has largely avoided discussing his Russia-related voting, saying there will be a time to discuss past foreign policy decisions but now Abbott and other Texans, as well as himself, should focus on supporting Ukraine.

As for his vote against a 2015 bill that would have made it easier to export liquefied natural gas, O'Rourke has said he believed more environmental protections should have been attached to the measure, as it was not fully known what the environmental impact would be, the Morning News reported.

Newsweek has reached out to the Abbott and O'Rourke campaigns for responses to their recent comments but did not hear back before publication.

Update 03/21/22, 12:45 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information.

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GOP Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger, Beto O'Rourke, have traded attacks in recent weeks. Above, O'Rourke speaks onstage during the South by Southwest festival on March 12 in Austin. Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW