Greg Abbott in the Big Apple


Are you a fan of New Yorkers? Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott seems to be one.

This past week, Abbott ran two different ads on popular news media sites. One read:  “Wanted: Law abiding New York gun owners looking for lower taxes and greater opportunity.” The other asked, “Is Gov. Cuomo looking to take your guns?”

Both ads were targeted to New York residents with Manhattan or Albany ZIP codes who visit news websites including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. When users clicked on either ad, they were directed to a Facebook page featuring a bold heading “KEEP YOUR GUNS, COME TO TEXAS,” a completely orange state of Texas with the caption “each orange dot represents a Texas gun owner,” and a personal letter from Abbott urging New Yorkers to move to Texas where people “work like hell to protect [their] rights.”

The campaign raises several questions. Why did Abbott do this? Where did the money come from? Didn’t he have better things to do? And then, after a moments’ pause, “wait, what?”

Yes, this happened. The money came from Abbott’s now $18 million campaign fund account. And the letter to Facebook users included reassurances such as, “We have no income tax” and “Keep more of what you earn and use some of that extra money to buy more ammo.”

As for why Abbott is doing this, there could be many answers.

The easy answer is that Abbott, a supporter of unrestricted gun ownership, is simply voicing his opinion as New York, the first state to change laws in response to the shooting in Newtown, CT, tightens regulations on weapons. But this answer seems insufficient, considering the cost of an ad in The New York Times.

Another answer seems to fit the bill. According to an article in The Dallas Morning News, Abbott has added $4.1 million dollars to his campaign fund in the past six months, outpacing Gov. Rick Perry by half a million dollars. Perry is considering forgoing his 2014 gubernatorial campaign for a presidential run. Abbott’s prior campaign for Attorney General of Texas cost $4 million, so his current $18 million campaign fund suggests that he’s trying to draw public and media attention in preparation for a possible 2014 gubernatorial run. Abbott’s spokesman said his current focus is only on his role as attorney general — though it’s unclear how he’s fulfilling his attorney general duties by running ads in New York.

So there is an inevitable, and most likely  intended, result of Abbott’s ads: to draw attention to Texas in a fashion that seals the image (and perhaps fate) of Texas as an independent, boisterous, and proud gun-owning state. It is almost a salute to the 600 or so Texans who gathered on Capitol grounds on Jan. 19 to protest President Barack Obama’s proposals to curb gun violence.

Abbott has painted a very Republican picture of Texas, all while drawing attention to the fact that, despite not having an income tax, Texas “manage[s] to have a multi-billion dollar budget surplus” at a time when the debt crisis is looming. Both are great talking points to bring up were he to run for governor.

From a campaign perspective, Abbott’s ads succeeded. They drew attention to Abbott and added to his media presence. And they highlighted his pro-gun stance, something of which most Texas Republican primary voters would highly approve. This sudden national spotlight as a result of running a few ads in an online paper in a couple of cities is truly a bargain. What better publicity could he have asked for?

But from a public relations standpoint, Abbott might have chosen an inopportune time for his stunt, as well as a risky subject. While I am not suggesting that Abbott condones violence, his almost humorous ads could be taken as a lighthearted approach to the recent parade of public shootings, even in a state as pro-gun as Texas. Though amusing, Abbott’s “wanted sign” ad, Facebook letter and pithy attempts to coerce New Yorkers to move to Texas, were not responsible moves. Spending millions of dollars on three funny ads at a time when the nation copes with the aftermath of the Newtown shootings and the violence south of UT at Lone Star College in Houston — not to mention the slashing of Texan public education budgets — stands out as insensitive, to say the least.

Malik is a Plan II and business honors program freshman from Austin.