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Abbott bows to Trump pressure on Texas election audit

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is barreling forward with an audit of the 2020 election in his state's four largest counties after mounting pressure from former President Trump.

The move comes as Arizona releases a much-anticipated election review of its own, which led to increasing friction within the state's Republican Party and ultimately found Trump lost to President Biden by an even wider margin last year.

At the same time, audits are just beginning in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, led by Republicans in the state legislature.

The GOP-led audit in Arizona found that Biden won Arizona by 1,040,873 votes in Maricopa County in November, which was 99 more votes than the certified ballot in 2020 showed. Additionally, the audit revealed that Trump's vote total dropped from 995,665 to 995,404.

Still, Trump is continuing his campaign of pressuring other states to conduct audits, citing his unfounded claims that the presidential election was fraudulent.

Trump sent an open letter to Abbott on Thursday, demanding that support Texas House Bill 16, which was filed by Texas state Rep. Steve Toth (R), despite results showing the former president won the Lone Star State by 630,000 votes.

The legislation would permit county and state leaders to send a request to review the 2020 election results to a county clerk, who would then be tasked with establishing an advisory committee to comb through ballots in county precincts. A similar bill drafted by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) already passed the upper chamber but did not make it to the state house.

The secretary of state's office announced hours later that an election audit would be carried out in Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties. Biden carried in Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties in November, while Trump won Collin County.

"In Gov. Abbott's eyes, it's not about Donald Trump or anyone else," Toth told The Hill. "It's about Texans believing that their election system is fair and honest."

Cindy Siegel, the chair of the Harris County GOP, applauded the election reviews.

"All Harris County voters, regardless of their political party, should support the Secretary of State stepping in to conduct a comprehensive audit of the 2020 election to protect their right to free, fair, and secure elections," she said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Harris County officials have been deceiving voters regarding the election process and refused to investigate reports of potential fraud and irregularities filed by election clerks and poll watchers.

But other Republicans interpret the move as a clear sign of GOP acquiescence to Trump.

"It's about Donald Trump demonstrating dominance over the Republican Party," said veteran national GOP strategist Doug Heye. "I don't think it's really about now the logic of what states did he win or lose, it's about him exacting power."

"Politicians should be mindful of the fact that he doesn't give points, he only gives them away," he added. 

Democrats have hit back at Abbott and Trump, calling the audits "a sham" or "fraudits."

"These sham audits announced by Gov. Abbott in Texas and the one that just concluded in Arizona are apart of a coordinated effort to spread lies about our elections and roll back voting rights across the country," said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who serves as the chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.

Republican strategists say the move shows Trump's influence not only with state and local Republican elected officials, but also GOP voters.

"If he says, 'This is something I want you to do, governor,' Trump can move those Republican voters to get behind that and to encourage them, encourage their elected officials to do this," said Austin-based GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser.

The pressure from Trump, who has endorsed Abbott for reelection, comes as the governor faces primary challenges from the right in his 2022 reelection bid. Former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West, former state Sen. Don Huffines (R) and conservative political commentator Chad Prather have all launched primary challenges against Abbott, but most insiders are in agreement that Abbott will likely win the primary.

"The governor is clearly in a position of strength right now," said one Texas-based Republican operative. "[With] President Trump putting this out there, I'm not sure how much pressure that actually puts on the governor considering he's in such a strong position in the primary right now."

Still, Abbott's move to go along with Trump's demand shows the extent to which the governor is willing to be in lockstep with the former president. Abbott is said to be considering a run for president in the case that Trump does not run and would need to appeal to the party's staunchly pro-Trump base.

Other Republicans have expressed concerns that the push will only instill the belief that the electoral process is illegitimate and lead GOP voters to believe that their vote is illegitimate and drive down their turnout, costing the party elections.

Republicans enjoyed victories up and down the ballot in Texas last year: Trump won the state, Sen. John Cornyn (R) sailed to reelection and the party maintained majorities in both state legislature chambers.

"Some of this does concern us because we don't want to see Republicans do anything other than register more Republican voters and turn them out to the polls to win again," Steinhauser said.

Steinhauser pointed to how the secretary of state's office made the official announcement, instead of Abbott.

"He's taking action. He's going to support this effort going forward, but I don't think he's necessarily going to talk about it a lot," Steinhauser said. "I think he's got a bunch of other things to do and to talk about."

Toth, on the other hand, said that he hears "over and over again" from constituents that they are afraid their vote doesn't count because they have lost confidence in the election system. But he pushed back against the notion that it will result in lower voter turnout.

"I think it makes people more enthusiastic to vote when they know that the government cares that the people of our state believe in our process, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican," he said.

Other Republicans say they aren't concerned about the threat of lower turnout, pointing to the history of a first-term president's party normally losing seats, as well as what they say is their advantage on issues like the economy and the border.

"I think that the reality is that 2022 is going to be a really strong year for Republicans," said the Texas-based GOP operative. "I think there are issues, like the economy, which are going to be a huge factor and then also border security."

"The reality is that what you're seeing in Texas right now over border security is unlike anything you've ever seen and the governor has done an incredible job stepping up and doing what he can at the state level to impact border security law."

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