Texas Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke plans on Friday to march out parents and families of the 19 children killed in the Uvalde school shooting, hours before he faces off against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on the debate stage.
Mr. O’Rourke, a former congressman and former presidential candidate, is set to join the families in urging Mr. Abbott to call a special session of the state legislature to “take the popular, bipartisan and commonsense step of raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21.”
The face-to-face showdown — the only scheduled debate of the campaign — is one of the last opportunities for Mr. O’Rourke to shift the momentum in a gubernatorial race that appears to be slipping away.
Mr. O’Rourke has seized on the May mass shooting at Rob Elementary School that left 19 students and 2 teachers dead as a way to draw a contrast with Mr. Abbott, who has the support of The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund.
The Uvalde shooting is the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history and reignited the national conversation over gun laws and school defenses.
Mr. O’Rourke sought to upstage Mr. Abbott earlier this year when he crashed a press conference in which Mr. Abbott and state and local officials provided an update on the shooting.
Mr. O’Rourke shook his finger at the governor and accused him of “doing nothing.”
“You are offering up nothing,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”
Some GOP officials onstage pushed back, telling him to sit down and accusing him of a publicity stunt.
“I can’t believe that you’re a sick son of a bitch that would come to a deal like this to make a political issue,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told Mr. O’Rourke.
Democrats and gun control activists across the country, meanwhile, celebrated the public clash.
They said Mr. O’Rourke’s actions were warranted, given the unwillingness of elected leaders to pass new gun restrictions in response to mass shootings.
During Mr. O’Rourke’s short-lived 2020 presidential bid, gun control advocates also cheered him on when he took an unapologetic stand in support of a proposed mandatory buyback program for assault weapons.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Mr. O’Rourke said in a debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
But Mr. O’Rourke’s message has been a tough sell in Texas, where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct.
More than five weeks out from Election Day, Mr. Abbott holds an 8-point lead over Mr. O’Rourke, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls.
A Quinnipiac University survey released this week showed 53% of likely voters said Mr. Abbott would do a better job of handling gun issues, compared with 44% for Mr. O’Rourke.
In a press release, the O’Rourke campaign said polls show an overwhelming majority of Texans support raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon, and said Texans have “experienced five of the deadliest mass shootings in American history during Abbott’s failed tenure.”