AP NEWS

Abbott aims for RGV win in re-election bid

July 16, 2017

McALLEN — Past the Ann Richards Administration building, down the street named after the family of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, into a neighborhood sporting the same name, Gov. Greg Abbott wheeled down a block in Bentsen Heights, a community in west McAllen.

It was the day after Abbott formally launched his re-election campaign in San Antonio and his first stop was yesterday in the Rio Grande Valley, a Democratic region that more and more Republicans have been visiting recently.

“Gov. Abbott is serious — I was kind of surprised he talked about it today,” said Dave Carney, Abbott’s general consultant and a longtime Republican adviser who has worked in Texas politics for more than 20 years.

“Turning the Valley red. That’s his ambition and he takes it seriously.”

During his campaign for governor in 2014, Abbott visited the Valley nearly 20 times and said he plans to come down more often this go around. The Valley also hosted the first gubernatorial debate in 2014 and Abbott told The Monitor he’s committed to participating in another debate here during this campaign.

Yesterday, Abbott hosted a breakfast at Lone Star Bar-B-Q, which he called “the best barbecue in the great state of Texas.”

He then took off to the Bentsen Heights neighborhood, which his team scouted as a prime block-walking opportunity — there were many “soft Democrats,” as Abbott’s campaign calls moderate voters to moderate-Democrat voters.

They believe those people can potentially be influenced by an Abbott door-knock and conversation.

Each of the six people Abbott talked to during his roughly 45-minute neighborhood visit said they support him. The people said they were surprised by Abbott’s drop in.

“I wish I knew he was coming,” said Wendy Randall, “I would’ve put on makeup.”

Of the four doors Abbott knocked on, one was not answered. He left a door hanger and moved on to the next home. While en route, a man and woman were across the street, smiling. Abbott wheeled over to them and asked a few questions. The woman, Cynthia Duran, said she voted for him in 2014 because he’s “a good man and believes what I believe in.”

“I was wondering why all these people were here,” said the man, Martin Espinoza, afterward. “I thought it was Trump.”

While Abbott was met with support and protest Saturday, some local officials had been frustrated recently at Abbott’s resistance to forward a federal reimbursement to McAllen.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said he’s included language since 2014 in the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill to allow the state to use FEMA’s State Homeland Security Grant Program to reimburse border communities for humanitarian aid. McAllen has spent over $500,000 on humanitarian aid since 2014.

Cuellar told The Monitor earlier this month that the money is at the state level but Abbott has, for some reason, been withholding the money.

However, according to a letter sent from FEMA to the governor’s office, obtained by The Monitor, FEMA initially told Abbott’s office that these communities could not be reimbursed for their spending.

“Upon further review of the pertinent section of the FY 2017 Appropriation regarding your inquiry into reimbursement for humanitarian support provided for unaccompanied alien children, and alien adults with minors, FEMA has amended our prior determination,” the letter read.

At the end of the letter, FEMA apologized for “any confusion caused by our initial read of the appropriation.”

When asked, Abbott said he received on Friday the new notice from FEMA that the funds are indeed reimbursable, but has not read it yet since he’s been out of his office campaigning.

“We just got the request,” Abbott said. “We need to process it. To be honest, we had not even received an application for reimbursement from McAllen. So the next step would be for McAllen to submit an application and then we need to see how the application matches up with what the law allows.”

Mayor Jim Darling said he spoke briefly with Abbott Saturday, before posing for a picture with him, holding an “Abbott for Governor” sign.

“Our application is in the mail,” Darling said he told Abbott.

Soon after, Darling met with protesters outside Lone Star Bar-B-Q, while Abbott took pictures with supporters.

“Not bad for a Saturday,” Carney said.

mferman@themonitor.com