It’s not unusual for the richest people in the United States to help fund presidential contenders. But what about a candidate for governor?
That’s what’s going down in Texas, where some of the country’s richest people are taking sides in the race between Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his challenger, Democratic whiz kid Beto O’Rourke.
With a new poll showing O’Rourke trailing Abbott by just two points among likely voters, donors from New York to Hollywood — including billionaire George Soros, CAA partner Kevin Huvane, mega-producer JJ Abrams and late night host Jimmy Kimmel — are among those contributing to help the charismatic pol combat Abbott’s larger war chest and close the gap.
Soros kicked in $1.5 million; J.B. Pritzker donated $100,000; Frank Gehry gave $75,000; Timothy Disney gave $60,000; Pom-Wonderful billionaire Lynda Resnick donated $40,000; and Huvane gave $50,000, according to campaign records.
Abrams, Gwyneth Paltrow and Katie McGrath each contributed $25,000. Maria Shriver, Jimmy Kimmel, Tory Burch, Willie Nelson and former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan each contributed $10,000.
“People here and around the country see the rights and freedoms of their friends and family in Texas being taken away,” Eric Ortner, a Hollywood producer and strategic adviser who has served in several presidential administrations, told TheWrap.
Transparency USA shows that O’Rourke raised a total $66 million from individuals and PACS for his gubernatorial bid. That’s far less than the $94 million Abbott has received from an array of PACs and supporters ranging from the merely rich to the mega rich.
O’Rourke’s campaign reported on Oct. 11 that it had received $27 million in donations — most of them made online — from 511,000 individuals from late February through June, setting a Texas state record.
Abbott’s campaign reported $25 million in donations from nearly 45,000 contributors during the reporting period.
Among other issues, Abbott signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion measures in September. It bans the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. And Abbott oversaw the adoption of the “permitless carry” law in 2021, allowing most Texans to carry handguns in public without going through training or having to get permits.
“Texans have a sitting governor backed by billions of dollars in dark money trying to trick his voters and ignore their calls for action — action after the Uvalde massacre, action to lower the cost of healthcare, and action to do their basic duty to keep Texans safe,” Ortner said. “Abbott literally let his citizens freeze to death because he would not winterize the power grid, while they saw their senator Ted Cruz on TV abandoning them to flee to Cancun.”
Abbot’s office didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
Trump recently arrived in Texas to formally endorse Abbot and express his disdain for O’Rourke, calling the former congressman a “flake.”
While Abbot has a $28 million edge and a former president, O’Rourke is drawing on his unique rock star status. In a moment that reached millions, British pop star Harry Styles showed his support by displaying a “Beto for Texas” sticker on his guitar during an Oct. 2 concert at Austin’s Moody Center.
At one point during the show, Styles pointed to the sticker, with a video of the moment flashing on the venue’s big screens. The audience cheered as O’Rourke stood in the crowd, smiling in a made-for-Instagram moment.
It was the sort of star turn that has followed O’Rourke since he arrived on the political scene in 2012, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by defeating eight-term incumbent Democrat Silvestre Reyes in the primary.
O’Rourke was reelected in 2014 and 2016, but in 2018 he decided to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
The move instantly made him a favorite in Hollywood, where he was compared to a young John F. Kennedy. O’Rourke lost the election to Cruz by a margin of 2.6%, an impressive accomplishment against an incumbent Republican in a deeply red state. His $80 million haul included more than $1 million from the TV/Movies/Music sector, according to OpenSecrets.org.
After the loss to Cruz, O’Rourke set his sights on running for governor in Texas. A November 2021 story in the Texas Tribune cast O’Rourke as a “weaker candidate in a harder race.” But that was before the Uvalde shooting, which left 19 students and two teachers dead at Robb Elementary School on May 24.
The day after the shooting, O’Rouke crashed Abbott’s nationally televised press conference where he angrily confronted the governor, shouting “This is on you!”
“You are doing nothing,” O’Rourke told Abbott, a gun rights supporter. “You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”
In his criticism of O’Rourke, Abbott has singled out the former congressman’s Hollywood support as a sign of O’Rourke’s outlier status.
“With a long list of liberal celebrity donors, it’s clear Beto O’Rourke has more in common with Hollywood elites than Texas voters,” Abbott campaign spokesman Mark Miner recently told the Houston Chronicle.
On Sept. 30, the two men officially debated, sparring over gun control, immigration and abortion rights.
“I want every parent out there to know that the lives of your children are more important to me than the NRA or any special interests or any other political consideration,” O’Rourke said. “I will prioritize them ahead of everything else.”
Abbott responded: “We want to end school shootings, but we cannot do that by making false promises,” claiming they would violate the U.S. Constitution.
During the debate, Abbott repeated his position on the Plan B pill as an alternative to abortion. “By accessing health care immediately, they can get the Plan B pill that can prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place.”
O’Rourke said he would advocate for a return to reproductive freedom in Texas as established by Roe v. Wade.
“If you care about this, you need to turn out and vote,” O’Rourke said. “I will fight to make sure that every woman in Texas can make her own decisions about her own body, her own future and her own health care.”
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