McALLEN, RGV – Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott says he aims to win or come close to winning a majority of the votes in the Rio Grande Valley, traditionally a Democratic stronghold.
Abbott spoke with reporters in McAllen on Saturday, the day after participating in the first televised governor’s race debate to be held in the Valley. Before that Abbott gave a pep talk to supporters at the Holiday Inn Express before joining them in a block walk – or, as he said, in his case a block wheel push.
“When I was on the ballot last time in 2010 I got 48 percent of the vote in Cameron County, which is one of the Valley counties. We are pushing for more than 50 percent of the vote in Cameron County. The organization and support we have in Hidalgo County is also very, very, high. I think we have a legitimate shot at either winning the Rio Grande Valley in toto or coming very, very, close to doing it,” Abbott told reporters.
San Antonio Express-News reporter Peggy Fikac asked Abbott what his strongest messages are in the Valley. “There are several strong messages,” Abbott replied. “Voters in the Rio Grande Valley who are Hispanic are looking for someone who is a champion for them and their culture and they can palpably feel that from me and see it from me. They know that of the two candidates running that I will be the strongest advocate for the Hispanic culture down here.”
The second message that resonates with Hispanics in the Valley, Abbott said, are the issues he is focused on. “People who live in the Rio Grande Valley, they want to have border security and I am the only candidate running for governor who has a border security plan.”
Abbott said Hispanics in the Valley also want to have the opportunity to create their own business.
“It could be a small tienda just ten feet by ten feet but they want to be able to do that without the government telling them how to run it. They know it is the Republican Party, not the Democrat Party that will give them the opportunity to start a business and to grow a business and to live a dream,” Abbott said. “That fits right in to one of our themes which is what Texans really want to be able to do, they want to pursue their dreams. And it is so hard to pursue a dream when you have government dictating what you can do, imposing more and heavy regulations on you and those big government policies that Senator Davis stands for crush dreams, as opposed to allowing them to flourish.”
Asked if she knew where Wendy Davis, his Democratic opponent, stands on the issue of Barack Obama, Abbott chuckled. “She wouldn’t say,” Abbott said. In Friday’s televised debate, which was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Abbott asked Davis if she regretted voting for Obama. Davis responded without saying she did or did not.
In his speech to supporters Abbott said that when he first ran for statewide office back in 1996, three or four people would show up to his events in the Valley. “What we are seeing now is a new found energy in the Rio Grande Valley. It is an energy where the people themselves are saying enough of the old leaders, we need new leaders that are going to be fighting for them, fighting for their values, fighting for the future of the next generation and you know that is going to be Greg Abbott, fighting for you,” Abbott said, to loud applause.
Abbott said a lot of people seem to “misunderstand and mischaracterize” exactly what is in the “hearts and the minds and the souls” of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. “You know what I find about the values and principles of the some of the people that I hugged and shook hands with last night, people that I have hugged and shook hands with on the other 14 times that I have been down here to the Rio Grande Valley? You, just like me, care as much as anything else about your family, about your faith, about your freedom, the freedom to be who you are, the freedom to be able to start a business, to make whatever kind of money you want, to dream big dreams and be able to achieve it. You know that in me you have a fighter… you count on me taking care of you in the future,” Abbott said, again to loud applause.
Abbott introduced his wife, Cecilia, to supporters. He said that if he becomes governor his wife will be the first Hispanic First Lady of Texas. He said they celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary last month.
“We know the future of the Valley and the future for the Hispanic community is united with the principles of the Republican Party. One that will empower you more, one that will provide more economic opportunity for you, one that will provide the very best education system in the history of the State of Texas,” Abbott added.
Abbott was introduced by Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas. Salinas remarked that he had never seen this many GOP supporters at a function in the Valley before. “If we could always be together like this we could probably replace a lot of bad people on some of our city councils. We could probably get the FBI away from the Valley because they are always around. But we need to start electing some good people to our offices in the Valley and the city councils and the mayors, state reps and people who are not going to raise taxes on our poor people,” Salinas said.
Salinas said he has worked closely with Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry for the past 14 years. “He (Abbott) has fought for us not only in Texas but in the Supreme Court. Can you imagine what he is going to do for us as Governor? He is a man who is going to be a governor for everybody in Texas.”
Salinas was one of three Valley mayors to stand with Abbott at the pep rally. The others were Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell and Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal. Salinas said he was pleased Boswell was present. “They are a little bit ahead of us over there (in Cameron County) because the County Judge is a Republican. But we are going to get there,” Salinas said. He said the Republican Party has to start fielding candidates up and down the ballot because “they (Democrats) are taking all of us for granted.”