The timing leaves some to wonder whether the energy grid can handle another major freeze and what it would mean for Gov. Greg Abbott's political future. With a recent report warning that Texas could be hit with a serious case of déjà vu, some experts say the Republican incumbent could be in hot water.
Last February's power grid failure is troubling for a significant number of Republican voters, said Joshua Frick, a Republican campaign consultant and president of Foxhole Strategies.
“Just as a quarterback receives too much credit for their team's victories and too much blame for their team's losses, Gov. Greg Abbott is not solely responsible for this failure,” Frick said by email. “However, if I were advising Beto O'Rourke's campaign, I would continue to harp on it.”
O’Rourke, a Democrat, recently announced his plans to evict Abbott and move into the governor's mansion. The El Paso politician has been highly critical of Abbott’s response to Winter Storm Uri, saying in his announcement video that Texans had been “abandoned” by their leaders.
Frick believes the grid is one of the governor's most vulnerable issues. O’Rourke will have to properly outline his opponent's role in the failure, explaining a complicated issue in a way that low-information midterm voters can understand, he said.
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When the storm hit, the system failed Texans, said Kathleen Thompson, communications director for the Dallas County Democratic Party. Other states are equipped with infrastructure that is strong enough to withstand a days-long freeze, but rather than fixing the grid, Abbott steered the Legislature to go after voting rights and red-meat social issues, she said.
“I certainly hope that we don’t have another hard freeze and another power and leadership failure." – Kathleen Thompson, Dallas County Democratic Party spokesperson
Thompson noted that after the legislative session ended, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick received generous campaign donations from the energy industry. It reminded her of an Upton Sinclair quote from The Jungle: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Leadership hasn’t done enough to prevent this type of calamity from happening again, Thompson said, citing recent polling that showed 60% of registered Texas voters disapprove of the way lawmakers handled electric grid reliability. She hopes that Texans remember last February’s freeze when they go vote next year.
“I certainly hope that we don’t have another hard freeze and another power and leadership failure,” she said. “But if it does, I mean, Abbott’s already considered weak.”
The energy grid could be a major issue in November 2022’s general election, said Zack Malitz, treasurer of a liberal PAC called Boot Texas Republicans.
It’ll be a tough cycle for Democrats both statewide and nationally, but gubernatorial races are somewhat unique, he said. When the lights go out or when there’s a pandemic that devastates the state, people look to the governor for help and guidance.
Democrats could be fired up during this general election, and there could also be a lot of Republican defections if Abbott “fails badly enough,” Malitz said. Some conservatives may be ready to try something different: "Even if they’re not typically used to voting for a Democrat, they might say, ‘We can’t afford four more years of Greg Abbott.’”