Tonight’s debate between Abbott and O’Rourke may be the only one, and it comes at a crucial moment.

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Tonight’s debate between Abbott and O’Rourke may be the only one, and it comes at a crucial moment. |

By J. David Goodman

  • Sept. 30, 2022Updated 8:09 p.m. ET

HOUSTON — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, were facing off on Friday evening in the first and only debate of the race for Texas governor, a campaign characterized by consistent attacks and apparent mutual dislike between the candidates.

The debate is being held in Edinburg, a border city far from the large population centers of this increasingly urbanizing state but deep in the heart of heavily Hispanic South Texas, a region where Mr. Abbott and other Republicans have increasingly made inroads.

The location also puts a spotlight on a topic that has been among the most effective issues for Mr. Abbott: the record numbers of unauthorized migrants continuing to arrive at the southern border.

The meeting of the two candidates, just a few weeks before early voting begins in Texas, comes at a crucial moment for both campaigns, especially Mr. O’Rourke’s. Over the summer, some polls had suggested a tightening race after the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But more recent surveys show Mr. Abbott more firmly in control, with a lead of about seven percentage points.

Both men are seated during the debate; Mr. Abbott has used a wheelchair since he was 26, when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging, paralyzing him below the waist. There is no audience, not even spouses, in the large performance hall.

Chris Evans, a spokesman for Mr. O’Rourke, said that the Abbott campaign had proposed the terms and then would not accept any changes: “They declined to have voters in the audience.” An Abbott spokesman, Mark Miner, said Mr. O’Rourke was in “no position to run the state if he can’t even comprehend simple debate rules.”


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