Texas Democrats struggle to find candidate to challenge Gov. Abbott In 2018

SMU Political Scientist Cal Jillson talks about Democratic hopes of challenging Texas Gov. Abbott in 2018.


Governor Greg Abbott kicked off his 2018 reelection campaign late last week. For the moment, he still largely has the field to himself. The Texas Democratic Party is having a difficult time recruiting an experienced candidate to run against him.

Any Democrat who decides to challenge Abbott will face a steep climb. The governor has already built up a campaign war chest of nearly $41 million.

“If I am, say, Julian Castro, and I’m wondering whether it’s time for me to run for governor and put my political reputation on the line, I might look closely at this race and say, ‘My prospects, even though I’m a well-known Democrat and I could raise a good bit of money, would be quite small,’” says Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

Add to that the fact that no Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. “As long as the Texas state Democratic Party remains a shell,” Jillson says, “it leaves Texas Democratic candidates virtually on their own, and they’re sitting ducks.”

So far, the only Democrat who has expressed an interest in running for the party’s nomination is Jeffrey Payne, a Dallas businessman who has never run for office before. The state Democratic Party says it’s talking to several possible candidates, and, “an announcement will come at the appropriate time.”