SAN ANTONIO — Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday pitched U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, as the "rookie of the year" in his fight for re-election while seeking to boost the freshman among the same voters that Democrats hope will be Hurd's downfall in November.
Acknowledging Texas' 23rd Congressional District is overwhelmingly Latino, Abbott came to Hurd's campaign bearing a handwritten note from Abbott's wife, the first Hispanic first lady of Texas, backing Hurd for another term. And Abbott, whose 2014 gubernatorial campaign made a concerted effort to appeal to Hispanic voters, expressed confidence that they will see Hurd differently from incendiary presidential nominee Donald Trump when they go to the polls.
Promotion: U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is speaking at the 2016 Texas Tribune Festival. Find out more at texastribune.org/festival
"I think he has separated himself and he made clear that he’s running on both the success that he was able to achieve in his first term as a congressman, but also the core values that he stands for that really resonate and connect with the people of this district," Abbott told reporters, saying that in Hurd, one of only a few black Republicans in the House, the district has "no better representative of the multicultural values that this country and this particular district stand for."
Abbott emphasized an argument at the heart of Hurd's campaign — that he has been uncommonly productive in his first two years in Congress, especially compared to the Alpine Democrat trying to regain the seat, Pete Gallego. Hurd "deserves the 'rookie of the year' award for what he did," Abbott said at the Hurd headquarters before volunteers spread out across the district.
Hurd is fighting to hold on to his seat in Texas' only competitive congressional race this November, a contest in which Democrats hope voters will punish Hurd, who does not currently support Trump, for not standing up to his party's controversial nominee. Abbott cast the re-election battle, set in a perennial swing district, as having far wider implications than the Lone Star State.
"If Will Hurd were to lose this race, it puts Congress back on the pathway of having someone ascend to office who’s even more disliked than Hillary Clinton, and that person is Nancy Pelosi," Abbott said. "Will Hurd votes on who will be the speaker of the House. Will Hurd will not allow Nancy Pelosi to reclaim the speaker of the House position."
That's not to say Abbott did not have some choice words for Clinton, whom he said has been caught "lying about Benghazi, lying about her emails, lying about her health, or lying about whatever she's lying about." It's time, Abbott added, "that we had people in office that are going to tell the truth and not lie to the American people."
Hurd kept the focus on Gallego in his own remarks, saying he knows the Democrat is scared after touting how many homes — 50,000 — his campaign has already reached in the district. Hurd also criticized Gallego for "spreading lies about my record when it comes to supporting veterans" — an increasingly heated issue in the race, with both candidates airing TV ads on it. On Friday, Gallego held a news conference to denounce Hurd with Cheryl Lankford, a Gold Star wife who spoke earlier this year at the Democratic National Convention.
Gallego responded to Abbott campaigning with Hurd by again seeking to tie the congressman to Trump. In a statement, Gallego pointed to questions surrounding Texas' investigation of the billionaire's beleaguered Trump University when Abbott was attorney general, and Gallego cited Abbott's recent statement that he hopes Trump wins Texas by double digits.
"Today, that same Greg Abbott is campaigning for Will Hurd," Gallego said. "Trump, Abbott and Hurd share the same selfish ideology. But, at least Governor Abbott is up front about it - he doesn't try to hide his connections to Donald Trump like Will Hurd does."
Yet Abbott still does not cut the image of a full-throated Trump supporter, or at least defender. Asked Saturday by reporters about the nominee's bouts of disrespectful rhetoric toward veterans, Abbott immediately changed the topic to Clinton, saying actions are more important and hers "largely have abandoned our military."
Abbott's visit to Hurd's headquarters was his first public appearance on behalf of a candidate in several months. Abbott, who has been recovering from severe burns he suffered earlier this year, is also helping Hurd by lending him the field operation Abbott built during his 2014 run for governor.