Will Matthew McConaughey run for governor of Texas?

AUSTIN, Texas —

Is he or isn’t he? Texans want to find out.

Since spring, movie star Matthew McConaughey has been toying with the idea of a run for governor of Texas but has refused to commit, relishing the spotlight celebs are accustomed to while promoting his new memoir, “Greenlights.”

For the record:

5: 18 p.m. Oct. 17, 2021An earlier version of this report referred to “this week” throughout the article instead of “last week.”

4: 56 p.m. Oct. 17, 2021

An earlier version of this report said Matthew McConaughey played a gay AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.” He played an AIDS patient.

But while the actor, who lives in the Lone Star State’s capital, Austin, remains on the sideline without saying what he plans to do, some who want to occupy the office either have placed themselves in a holding pattern, choosing to wait and see what McConaughey does, or are wringing their hands about his possible run. McConaughey is seen as a potential lock for Democrats, who have not won statewide office since 1994, even if he has not publicly revealed his position on many key issues facing Texans.

The 51-year-old actor, who describes himself as a “statesman-philosopher, folk-singing poet,” is a high-profile figure in the state, turning up at University of Texas football games to gin up the crowd, but remains an enigma. Is he able to win?

Matthew McConaughey performs before the start of the inaugural home game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Austin FC

Matthew McConaughey performs June 19 before a home game between the Austin FC and San Jose Earthquakes at Q2 Stadium.

(Gary Miller/ Getty Images )

In a poll last month by the Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler, 44% of voters favored McConaughey, 35% favored incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the rest would vote for another candidate. It’s not clear which party McConaughey would choose.

“He seems to simply enjoy the publicity. This is not how it works. Gilberto Hinojosa is the chair of Texas Democratic Party. He said that he needs to choose a party. “Nobody knows what this guy stands for.”

Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, has yet to conduct a poll about the actor because, he said, “I’m deeply skeptical.”

“I’m not really interested unless he commits. Henson stated that if he is going to do it, he would not be obligated to us.

The filing deadline for the March 1 primary is Dec. 13. Abbott, who is a former Texas judge and attorney general, is up for reelection and faces two far-right opponents. Beto O’Rourke, a progressive Democrat from El Paso and former congressman, is also looking into a campaign.

” No decision has been made,” O’Rourke spokesman David Wysong stated last week. “He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state.”

McConaughey’s spokeswoman declined comment last week about whether he plans to run.

This month, McConaughey — who rose to fame playing Texans in “Dazed and Confused,“Dallas Buyers Club” and “True Detective” — told the New York Times’ Kara Swisher he was still “measuring” a possible campaign, while dismissing politics as “a bag of rats.”

“Is that a place to make real change, or is it a place where, hey, right now, it’s a fixed game?” he said during Swisher’s “Sway” podcast, describing himself as “aggressively centrist.”

“I don’t know if you can walk down the center and not be in trouble,” he said. “It can be very hard down the center.”

During the podcast, he tried to avoid sensitive topics — difficult, given that the current governor has embraced far-right bans on abortion and COVID-19 vaccination mandates. McConaughey stated that he supports mask mandates, but was disturbed by the fact that the state abortion ban went into effect at six weeks gestation and did not make any exception for incest victims. McConaughey, an actor who often speaks out about his Christian faith and condemned the ban, did not condemn it. He claimed he did not know enough about Texas’ restrictions on voting rights to make a comment.

McConaughey’s Austin friends, including Richard Linklater (director of “Dazed & Confused”) and Nic Pizzolatto (author of “True Detective”), have kept their distance from McConaughey’s plans.

” We wouldn’t tell anyone before he announces,” Pizzolatto’s representative stated. “Feels premature.”

Karl Rove, the GOP strategist who shepherded George W. Bush into the Texas governor’s mansion and then the White House, told Politco last spring that a possible McConaughey campaign had his pal Lawrence Wright, the Austin-based author and New Yorker writer, “hyperventilating.”

“Karl has gotten me in a lot of trouble,” Wright said via email last week. “I’ve dealt with this over-and-over. I’d be happy to talk if and when Matthew actually declares.”

Rove last week chafed at a potential McConaughey campaign, calling it “unlikely” and the actor’s election as governor “impossible.”

“He hasn’t staked out positions with Texans,” Rove said. Rove said that it speaks volumes about our politics that the candidate has not declared a position or shown any policy involvement. What is his position on the major issues? What are the priorities?”

Austin-based GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser disagreed.

“Personality trumps policy,” he said, likening McConaughey to former President Trump or Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler turned governor of Minnesota. “I don’t know how important specific positions will be to a general audience when Matt McConaughey is running. These celebrity candidates have a different appeal.”

McConaughey’s brand resonates among Texans, Steinhauser said: “He’s from Texas Hill Country; he’s a real Texan. The cool factor is there, whether it’s the Wild Turkey ads or the Lincoln ads.”

“I definitely would bet on him running,” he added.

McConaughey was born in the west Texas town of Uvalde to a kindergarten teacher and oil pipe supplier who later moved the family to north Texas. As did Abbott, McConaughey graduated from Longview High School and University of Texas at Austin.

In 1993, while a film student, McConaughey landed his first role in “Dazed and Confused,” ad-libbing one of his signature slacker phrases: “Alright, alright, alright!” He went on to star in a string of romantic comedies and the occasional legal drama, including “Failure to Launch,” “Lincoln Lawyer” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” He developed a reputation as a playboy and pothead. In 1999, he was arrested at his Austin home, stoned and naked, for late-night bongo drumming — a “jam session” he joked about in his book, noting, “Two days later, BONGO NAKED T-shirts were all over Austin.”

McConaughey also detailed in the book how, a decade later, he rethought his image. He returned to indie films, playing Texas lawmen in Linklater’s “Bernie” and HBO’s “True Detective” and an AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he won an Oscar in 2014. He married Brazilian model Camila Alves in Austin and settled there to raise their three children and start a youth foundation.

McConaughey has since co-taught communications courses at the university and was appointed minister of culture, a celebrity mascot responsible for revving school spirit in garish, burnt-orange, tailored suits, often flashing the “Hook ’em horns” signal. McConaughey’s Instagram is replete with posts promoting Longhorns football and the Austin FC soccer club, which he also represents (in green suits, sometimes paired with bongos).

He filmed public service announcements during the COVID-19 pandemic and handed out masks at local hospitals. His virtual concert “We’re Texas” raised $7 million within hours of the February freeze’s deadly effects. This led to the headline in Texas Monthly “Matthew McConaughey & Beyonce Did More For Texas Than Ted Cruz”: “Matthew McConaughey and Beyonce Do More for Texas than Ted Cruz.” Austinites often see him walking down the street with his children, his blond hair hidden under sunglasses and a cap.

“He is a hero throughout Austin and much of Texas,” said David Schneider, a University of Texas at Austin lecturer in communications. “He’s very much a Texan.”

Sitting outside the school last week, Schneider, 64, said he’d met the actor there, and he seemed like “a nice guy, a fairly normal person.”

He said he did not think the actor would challenge Abbott.

“His personal life is too great to let him run for governor,” Schneider stated. Schneider said that there are certain issues that you cannot be neutral on. I think he would hurt his brand.”

Both Abbott and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said in interviews this year that they take McConaughey seriously as a candidate. McConaughey would attract more moderates than O’Rourke would progressives, according to the poll last month by the Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler. Even 22% of Trump voters said they’d back McConaughey, according to University of Texas at Tyler political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll.

“McConaughey is just likable. Owens stated that McConaughey is always there for Texas when it needs him.

Owens stated that the poll showed McConaughey’s popularity among moderate Texans could decline if he takes a public stance on controversial issues such as the abortion ban, voting right, and gun control.

Sitting last week at a bus stop on Guadalupe Street, the Austin university’s main drag, Antoine Fuller said he hopes McConaughey runs. I like his movies. He seems down to earth,” said Fuller, 36, a chef at the university who said he’s seen the actor walking around town in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts.

Walking nearby, Nicci Haynie also said she hopes McConaughey runs. Haynie, 50, is studying communications after serving in the Army. She’s a Democrat and a supporter of gun rights who has voted for O’Rourke but said she admires McConaughey because he embodies what drew her to Austin from Dallas 20 years ago. She said that McConaughey exudes a sense of joy and chill. He’s a true Austinite. We say ‘Keep Austin strange’, and that’s what we mean. Especially as a football ambassador, he’s so smooth and savvy.”

Some listening to bands play last week on Austin’s 6th Street had similarly glowing opinions of McConaughey. Danielle Crovo almost wept at the thought that the Wild Turkey ad pictured across the street might be entering the race.

“We want him to run, he’s gorgeous! Who wouldn’t want him representing us?” said Crovo, 34, who works at a hotel. A male colleague stood next to her and rolled his eyes.

“Of course,” she added, “he’s smart too.”

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