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Abbott’s Money Talks, But Can It Silence Voucher Opposition?

Gov. Greg Abbott is backed by some astounding amounts of money from very rich voucher advocates. But is money enough to get him over the finish line?

There is no denying that money matters. Its significance extends beyond spending; the act of raising funds is equally crucial

According to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University, “When a guy like Abbott raises money, it gets the attention of people who are thinking, ‘Can I afford to cross the governor and not support what he wants?”

The fundraising process, especially for incumbents like Abbott, can deter potential opponents. As Stein notes, “What better way to win an election than by not having an opponent?”

In recent reports, Abbott’s campaign announced he raised over $19 million for his two political accounts in the last six months of 2023. With upwards of $38 million in cash on hand, Abbott intends to target rural incumbent GOP state representatives who in November voted against his push for a school voucher-like plan known as education savings accounts, or ESAs.

“With the primary elections just around the corner, Governor Abbott has the resources needed to back strong conservative candidates who support his bold agenda to keep Texas the greatest state in the nation, including expanding school choice for all Texas families and students,” Abbott’s campaign manager Kim Snyder said in a statement.

This is not the first time Abbott has decided to get involved in his party’s primary elections. Back in 2018, Abbott endorsed three GOP challengers, aiming to unseat members of the Texas House.

He secured victory only in one of the three races, but let’s be clear, he didn’t lose for a lack of trying.

Abbott was notably aggressive in supporting Susanna Dokupil and Chris Fails against Republican incumbents Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, respectively, though both challengers were unsuccessful. Abbott spent a substantial amount, around a quarter of a million dollars, in an attempt to unseat Davis, who won by a 12 percentage point margin.

Will this time be any different? While money is influential in deterring potential challengers, it may not necessarily lead to the defeat of Republican incumbents, especially those recently re-elected in districts designed to favor them. Stein emphasizes, “The governor has already solidified safe districts for Republicans, particularly incumbent ones.”

In 2020, rather than create more Republican congressional districts, Abbott and the Texas legislature chose to bolster incumbents with even safer districts; there are far fewer toss-up or competitive districts in the new map.

The effects of this redistricting were evident in the subsequent election, where Republicans not only secured the majority but did so convincingly, winning 86 out of the 150 seats.

Abbott faces a challenge as the Republican primary voters typically consist of those who have previously supported incumbent Republican candidates, “and no one single issue is likely to move them or defeat them,” Stein tells RA News. “This has been tried before with very little success.” Especially when looking at those congressional districts’ public and electorate’s opinion on school vouchers.

Rural communities have a historical resistance to vouchers, as public schools are the lifeblood of these areas, and defunding them could have a profound impact. Keith Bryant, Superintendent of Schools in Lubbock-Cooper ISD, illustrates the effect of a voucher program in rural communities best:

“They are unifiers, gathering places, and information providers. Many times they are the largest employers in their communities, and, often, school events are the largest draw of visitors to their towns. Disruptions to funding for rural schools are disruptions to the fabric of life in rural communities.”

Abbott didn’t just wage a political battle against 16 rural Republicans, he also directly challenged and confronted 16 rural communities.

Needle Matches

For Stein, paying a lot of attention to who is challenging a Republican incumbent over school choice is crucial. Most of the Republican challengers were directly recruited by Abbott for the specific mission of defeating voucher opponents, making them weaker opponents.

The key criteria include whether these challengers have prior elective office experience, a history of running for office, and the ability to raise substantial funds. From the available information, Stein coins these as “needle matches.”

Most of these candidates, while aligned with the governor on the voucher program, often lack a political background.

Active in politics? Well-known? Or some parent who strongly supports school choice because their kid is in private school? Get to know some of the Republican Challengers endorsed by Abbott:


District 

Incumbent 

Challenger 
Challenger Background
Gary VanDeaverChris Spencer President and chief operating officer of Crump Foods, Inc., current secretary of the Linden Economic Development Corporation, and past president of the Hughes Springs Chamber of Commerce. 
11Travis Clardy Joanne Shofner President of Nacogdoches County Republican Women and owns the Pure Joy Christian Counseling Center. She has taught Bible studies and led women’s retreats for 20 years.
12Kyle KacalTrey WhartonHuntsville ISD board member and was Board President. He has operated an insurance agency for 32 years. Previously served as a Board Member and later Chair of the Huntsville Walker County Chamber of Commerce. 
55Hugh Shine Hillary Hickland A “parental empowerment advocate” and an “educational freedom fighter”. She was a Crisis Pregnancy Center Mentor for 10 years, a member of Central Texas Republican Women, The Vice President for the local Daughters of the Republic of Texas group, and served as PTA President for 2 years. 
72Drew DarbyStormy BradleyShe has a steel manufacturer and is a board member of the Coahoma Independent School District where she stood against critical race theory and “anti-American propaganda”.
Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios, a Mexican-American Politics Reporter and Managing Editor at RA's Gun Violence Watch, unveils the Capitol's inner workings. Focused on Public Education and Gun Policies, she passionately advocates for informed dialogue, delivering concise, impactful insights into the intricate political landscape.

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