AUSTIN — Less than a week after instructing the Texas Department of Public Safety to establish a special unit to dismantle Mexican drug cartels and urging President Joe Biden to declare them terrorist organizations, Gov. Greg Abbott is launching a campaign highlighting the illegal importation of the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
Abbott, a Republican seeking his third term in the Nov. 8 election, features in the ad two county sheriffs calling fentanyl "a clear and present danger" because of the dramatic rise in overdose deaths over the past two years. One of the sheriffs is Republican Bill Waybourn of Tarrant County. The other is Ray Del Bosque of Zapata County in South Texas, a Democrat who has endorsed Abbott over Beto O'Rourke.
The 30-second spot that beginning Tuesday will run statewide on broadcast and cable stations in English and Spanish is part of a $4 million buy with six week to go before Election Day and four weeks before early voting begins Oct. 24. And it quickly pivots to Abbott's border initiative, Operation Lone Star, and the deployment of thousands of National Guard soldiers and state troopers to South Texas, which plays into the governor's signature issue of illegal immigration.
The controversial policy of sending migrants who have been granted at least temporary permission to remain in the United States to Washington, New York City and Chicago is part of Operation Lone Star.
The ad asserts that "O’Rourke supports open borders," based on the Democrat's vocal opposition to former President Donald Trump's hardline immigration policies, including plans for a border wall through much of South Texas. O'Rourke has not backed off from his opposition to Trump's, and now Abbott's, border policies.
But he rejects the "open borders" claim. Instead, he has called for streamlining the process for asylum seekers to be considered for legal status inside the United States and for stepped-up guest worker programs to help ease the labor shortage gripping Texas and the rest of the nation.
"Here's what I've heard as I've traveled the state, listening to Republicans in rural communities and Democrats right here in Austin, or in our hometown of El Paso, Texas," the Democrat said during an interview over the weekend at a political symposium put on by the Texas Tribune. "All of us, to a person, believe very strongly that if you want to come to this country, you must follow the law.
"And if you pass (the application process for asylum), welcome to America," he added. "And if you don't, you must return to your country of origin."
Fentanyl, often laced on to other drugs, is considered 100 times as powerful as morphine, and more than 100,000 fentanyl-related deaths were reported in the United States in 2021. Abbott, when he announced the DPS drug-cartel initiative on Thursday, said that at least 1,600 of them were in Texas. In both campaign appearances and events as part of his official duties, Abbott has married the issues of illegal immigration and fentanyl smuggling and distribution.
Polls suggest Abbott's warnings about immigration and his drumbeat of criticism of Biden's approach to the border are resonating among voters. A poll released in mid-September showed the governor with a 12-point advantage over O'Rourke when it comes to handling immigration issues.
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Greg Abbott ad attacks Beto O'Rourke on fentanyl, border security