The murders of 21 children and teachers in Uvalde weren’t enough to bring down Greg Abbott

The murders of 21 small children and their teachers weren’t enough.

Less than six months after the state endured the worst school shooting in its history, Texans re-elected the man who refused to take gun reform action to stop it happening again.

On Tuesday night – only a few hours after polls closed – incumbent Greg Abbott sailed to victory in the gubernatorial race, beating Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke, cementing his position as governor for a third term.

In an election watch party in McAllen, close to the US’s southern border, the Republican celebrated his win.

Yet, for the family members of victims killed in the Uvalde massacre, Mr Abbott’s victory marks yet another loss after they tried to turn their grief and pain into political action in the midterms.

On the 2022 ballot were the lives of the 19 young students and two heroic teachers killed during the 24 May mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

On the ballot were the state’s relaxed gun laws that enabled the 18-year-old gunman to legally buy an AR-15 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition days after his birthday.

And on the ballot was Mr Abbott’s refusal to call a legislative session to even discuss the possibility of introducing gun safety measures as he continued to enjoy his longstanding, cosy relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Mr O’Rourke made the Uvalde massacre a central issue in his campaign – securing the endorsement of the victims’ families and pointing out both Mr Abbott’s actions prior to the attack and apparent inaction in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, the Republican governor ignored the shooting altogether, instead running on a platform of immigration, the US’s border with Mexico and the economy.

And, in the end, it was those issues that won over voters.

Inaction after Uvalde

Mr Abbott’s action – or inaction – over the mass shooting fell under scrutiny almost immediately after the 24 May tragedy.

When news of the shooting reached him in Abilene, where he was holding a press conference about wildfires, instead of rushing to Uvalde, he continued with his plans to attend a fundraiser to drum up donations for his re-election campaign.

Initially, Mr Abbott claimed that he only stopped by the campaign fundraiser in Huntsville to “let people know that I could not stay, that I needed to go”.

But this version of events fell apart two months later when campaign finance reports and flight-tracking records, obtained byThe Dallas Morning News, revealed that he actually stayed almost three hours at the event.

A memorial for the 19 children and two teachers killed in the May shooting sits outside the school


While devastated parents were receiving the worst possible news, Mr Abbott was raising up to $50,000 in campaign funds.

In the weeks after the shooting, Mr Abbott also came under fire when he was a no-show at the funerals for each of the 21 victims.

When scheduling records exposed his absence, Mr Abbott’s office responded by saying he had sent flowers and condolences to the families and had visited every family who had requested a meeting.

Then there was his change in messaging about what happened that day.

One day after the massacre, Mr Abbott gave his first public address in which he heaped praise on the “amazing courage” of law enforcement officers on the scene. He told the community that had just lost 21 members that “it could have been worse”.

“It could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do,” he said.

This, of course, turned out to be false.

In the days and weeks after the shooting, it emerged that almost 400 officers waited a staggering 77 minutes before breaching the classroom as the gunman continued his murderous rampage and wounded victims bled to death.

The police response has now been branded an “abject failure,” one in which officers on the scene prioritised their own safety over saving the lives of the victims.

Mr Abbott later fumed that he had been “misled” by unidentified “public officials” before making his speech.

Three days on from the shooting, the governor spoke out again – this time giving two vastly different speeches with two dramatically conflicting messages on the topic of gun safety.

That Friday, Mr Abbott had been due to speak on stage at the NRA convention in Houston.

Abbott speaking in a pre-recorded video at the NRA convention


In light of the shooting, he pulled out of the event – but not before sending a pre-recorded video message to be played on stage.

In that speech, he undermined the importance of gun safety laws, claiming they have no impact on reducing gun violence.

“There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning and using of firearms, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities,” he said.

“In Uvalde, the gunman committed a felony under Texas law before he even pulled the trigger. It’s a felony to possess a firearm on school premises. But that did not stop him.”

The message – a show of defiance that he had no plans to tighten the state’s already weak gun laws – aired at the same time as he was telling the grieving Uvalde community that he “absolutely” expected new laws to be passed in response to the tragedy.

“With regard to a special (legislative) session, let me just say this: all options are on the table,” he said.

“Do we expect laws to come out of this devastating crime? The answer is absolutely yes. And there will be laws in multiple different subject areas. There will be committees formed, there will be meetings held, there will be proposals that will be derived, many of which will lead to laws that will be passed in the state of Texas.”

For the next near-on six months, Mr Abbott ignored ongoing requests from Uvalde officials to call a special legislative session to at least discuss the possibility of gun reform in the state.

State Representative Tracy King and state Senator Roland Gutierrez – the two Texas lawmakers who represent Uvalde – urged the governor to call the session. State Democrats said they would support proposals including raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic assault rifles from 18 to 21, creating red flag laws, introducing a 72-hour “cooling off” period for gun purchases and regulating private gun sales.

Grieving family members begged for change, calling — at the very least — for a raise in minimum age to purchase assault weapons.

Time after time, their pleas were ignored.

Instead of acknowledging that the state’s weak gun laws may have played any part in the massacre (the 18-year-old gunman legally bought two AR-15s just days after his birthday), Mr Abbott pointed the finger at mental illness and school safety and insisted that raising the minimum age to buy would be “unconstitutional”.

Parents who lost children in the Robb Elementary School shooting look at a sample ballot before going to vote on Monday


Instead, he claimed he took several other actions to “support the Uvalde community and make schools safer” including providing 30 law enforcement officers to the school district campuses for the new school year, $105.5m in funding for school safety and mental health services – as well as roping in Chuck Norris to front a programme to report suspicious behaviour at schools.

None of the actions involved restricting access to firearms.

On Monday – the penultimate day of voting – call logs between Mr Abbott and Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw gave yet another glimpse into how seriously the governor took the mass murders of 21 Texans.

The call logs, released by Mr Gutierrez, showed that Mr Abbott accepted three calls from Mr McCraw on 24 May, with the two men speaking for less than 30 minutes about one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history – an indication of a lack of urgency from the governor on the day of the massacre.

Gun reform on the ballot

This list of critiques about Mr Abbott’s handling of the massacre was fuel for Mr O’Rourke who both placed the responsibility for what happened squarely on the governor’s shoulders and slammed his inaction in the aftermath.

One day after the mass shooting, the Democrat infamously confronted the Republican in a highly-emotional press conference.

Mr O’Rourke – whose hometown El Paso was the site of another mass shooting in 2019 – blamed Mr Abbott for the massacre, shouting at him: “This is on you.”

“You are doing nothing. You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything,” he told him, before the Democrat was removed from the room.

Over the following months, Mr O’Rourke continued to place Uvalde and gun control front and centre of his election campaign.

On 30 September – hours before the two men went head-to-head for what would be their only debate – 35 family members of victims joined him for a press conference where they publicly endorsed the Democrat.

Days later, Mr O’Rourke released a gutwrenching ad campaign featuring some of the griefstricken family members.

Beto O’Rourke, Democratic candidate for Texas governor, at a town hall meeting in McAllen

(Associated Press)

In one of the advertisements, Ana Rodriguez told the camera how her 10-year-old daughter Maite Rodriguez could only be identified by her green Converse shoes.

“She wore green Converse with the heart drawn on the right toe. Those shoes ended up being one way to identify her body in that classroom,” the heartbroken mother said.

“I never want another family to go through this. Greg Abbott has done nothing to stop the next shooting. No laws passed. Nothing to keep kids safe in school. So, I’m voting Beto for Maite.”

During the gubernatorial debate, gun control was also high on the agenda – with Mr O’Rourke saying that “not a thing has changed” since the massacre.

“All we need is action, and the only person standing in our way is the governor of the state of Texas,” he said.

Mr Abbott pushed back, saying that gun laws would go against the Second Amendment and that “we want to end school shootings, but we cannot do that by making false promises”.

Mr O’Rourke – who ran unsuccessfully in the last two election cycles first for the Senate and then the White House – raised a hefty war chest and enjoyed the support of other anti-Abbott groups during the race.

Mothers Against Greg Abbott or MAGA – a political movement using an ironic riff on Donald Trump’s slogan – has spent months calling for Mr Abbott’s removal and supporting Mr O’Rourke for governor.

Mothers Against Greg Abbott’s billboard on the way into Uvalde

(Mothers Against Greg Abbott )

In one powerful promo, the group launched a poignant “back to school” advert, showing a small child getting ready for their first day back in class.

The boy is dressed head to toe in body armour, with the ad reading: “Our children are not soldiers.”

The group also erected billboards in Uvalde with Mr Abbott’s now infamous phrase “it could have been worse”.

Founder Nancy Thompson toldThe Independent in September that Mr Abbott had “failed Texan families” in his response to Uvalde and left parents living in fear of sending their children to school.

“I’m worried, terrified, angry and there isn’t a day I don’t think when I say goodbye to my children that it could be that day,” she said.

“That is in essence motherhood in America. Millions of mothers across America drop their kids off at school in the morning and hope today is not the day. And it’s all because the government forgot to take care of our families and now we have consequences.”

But, while Mr O’Rourke had the Uvalde families and Mothers Against Greg Abbott, Mr Abbott had the NRA.

Data compiled by Giffords showed that Mr Abbott received $20,700 in career gun lobby contributions – one of the highest of all candidates in gubernatorial races.

Abbott and NRA’s Wayne LaPierre at a press conference announcing the state’s new open carry law in 2021

(Greg Abbott/Twitter)

His close relationship with the NRA was perhaps most evident when in June 2021 – less than one year before Uvalde – he signed a bill into law allowing Texans without a licence to open carry handguns.

Standing at his shoulder at the bill signing were NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA president Carolyn Meadows.

The closeness only looks set to increase as the NRA is seeking to relocate to Texas from New York.

Immigration on the ballot

But – despite the Democrat’s efforts – Mr Abbott had been ahead in the race each step of the way.

Mr O’Rourke was fighting an uphill battle from the very start.

After all, Democrats haven’t won a statewide election in Texas in more than two decades.

And Mr Abbott sought to turn voters’ attention away from Uvalde, using his infamous migrant bus stunts to instead play into fears about the US-Mexico border.

Under his programme, the Republican bused dozens of migrants from Texas to other parts of the US including abandoning some outside Vice President Kamala Harris’s home in Washington DC.

The controversial plan appeared to work.

Kimberly Rubio, mother of slain Robb Elementary student Alexandria Rubio, is comforted at a press conference in September


In an October poll from The Texas Politics Project, voters said immigration and border security was the top issue for them on the ballot, with 32 per cent citing it.

The state economy was the second most important issue, followed by abortion.

Less than one in 10 voters (9 per cent) said that gun violence was an important issue to them.

In that poll, Mr Abbott held an 11-point lead over his Democratic challenger – a lead that translated into victory in the final race.

Ultimately, while gun violence may be the top issue for the families in Uvalde, it wasn’t enough to unseat Mr Abbott.

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