But there are signs the message has fallen flat, even with some suburban Republican voters who say the efforts to mirror President Trump’s demonization of “Democratic-run cities” and social justice demonstrations needlessly stoke fear and exacerbate political divisiveness.
In the longtime Republican stronghold of Collin County, home to two of the nation’s most competitive state legislative contests, Republican candidates and supporters have spotlighted rising crime rates in neighboring Dallas, where homicides are hovering near a 10-year high. But lifelong Republican Jim Murry said he shakes his head — or shouts at his television screen — when he hears Abbott or Trump rail against “violent” protesters or accuse Democrats of wanting to decimate local police forces.
“To me, it’s all unfounded fear,” said Murry, 64, as he stood among his neighbors’ spacious homes and manicured lawns in west Plano, a Dallas suburb. The idea that Democrats “are going to ruin the suburbs is just ridiculous. Crime is not really an issue here.”
But in many parts of Plano, one of the epicenters of the statehouse fight, Trump lawn signs still outnumber those supporting Biden, especially in the most affluent neighborhoods, and some residents say Democrats are too soft on crime. One resident said several of his neighbors bought guns after racial justice protests erupted this summer. Another blamed Democratic leaders in Dallas for his 26-year-old son’s desire to move back to Plano because he no longer feels safe in the city.
Private GOP polling shows a vast majority of suburban Texas voters reject “defunding the police,” said Austin Chambers, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee — a message the GOP has successfully tied to Democratic candidates in some voters’ minds, even over those Democrats’ objections.
“If they go along these lines and defund the police, we will go back to the days of vigilantes, where we all wear sidearms,” said Plano resident Jack Lusk, 77, a longtime Republican voter and retired pharmacist.
But the GOP’s law-and-order message also has butted up against changing demographics and priorities in the suburbs as Democrats target more than a dozen state House districts, many just outside of Houston or Dallas. The state has been a top priority for both parties in the nationwide battle for statehouses: The GOP controls 29 state legislatures and Democrats hope to flip more than a half-dozen chambers, including in Minnesota, Arizona and Pennsylvania, next month.
The two competitive statehouse races in Collin County are getting a boost from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Willie Nelson, who have latched onto a phone-bank campaign organized by Beto O’Rourke.
Since Democrats made major inroads in the Texas suburbs in 2018, Abbott has been attempting to halt their momentum by touting GOP support for law enforcement. He has railed against Democratic leaders in Austin, the state capital, who voted to divert $150 million from policing to housing, social service and health-care initiatives.
Abbott responded by proposing legislation that would cut off funding and limit the powers of Texas cities that reduce police department