A group of former and current Republicans said Sunday that their ad criticizing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) pandemic response was pulled from airing during Saturday night's University of Texas-Rice football game. "Despite being cleared by ESPN's legal department, 10 minutes before kickoff, we were informed that the ad would not run," the Lincoln Project, founded to oppose former President Donald Trump, said in a statement. "When asked why, we were told it was a 'University-made decision.' Did Greg Abbott or his allies assert political influence to ensure the advertisement was not broadcast?"
A spokesman for Abbott said the governor had nothing to do with pulling the ad, and the University of Texas did not expeditiously respond to a request for comment, The Dallas Morning News reports. "Abbott is a University of Texas graduate. He appoints members of the school's board of regents." The ad, "Abbott's Wall," says you could create an 85-mile-long wall of caskets from the more than 60,000 Texans who have died from COVID-19, or fill a cemetery that stretches between Austin and San Antonio.
The Lincoln Project said it spent $25,000 to air the spot nationwide on the Longhorn Network, and it "will be filing a Freedom of Information request with the University of Texas at Austin and Greg Abbott's official office to determine if any communications were made between the school and those within the governor's office in regards to this First Amendment-protected speech." The group said "several sources" had informed it "of the political panic inside the governor's office and campaign organization."
Abbott is up for re-election next year, and while he has effectively outflanked his conservative primary challengers with a string of hard-right policies on guns, immigration, abortion, and the pandemic, a new poll found his approval down to 45 percent and potential challengers Beto O'Rourke (D) and actor Matthew McConaughey either beating Abbott or coming very close.