Former congressman Beto O’Rourke released 10 years’ worth of tax returns Monday night, becoming the latest 2020 presidential contender to reveal information about his personal finances.
The Democratic candidate’s disclosure came shortly after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is also running for president, released his tax returns dating back to 2009.
The returns show that O’Rourke and his wife, Amy, made more than $370,000 in 2017, the most recent year for which they released returns. That amount includes O’Rourke’s $162,211 salary as a member of Congress representing Texas and more than $11,000 from Stanton Street Technology, an El Paso-based Internet company O’Rourke co-founded in 1999.
It also includes about $53,000 in income from the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, or CREEED. Amy O’Rourke has worked as a consultant for the philanthropic organization, which aims to improve the academic performance of students in the El Paso area.
Earlier in the day, O’Rourke told reporters that he would release his tax returns in an effort to be transparent with voters — and he criticized President Trump for not doing the same.
“If he must be compelled through a subpoena to do so, so be it,” O’Rourke said, following a town hall in Charlotte on Monday morning. “But everyone who runs to seek that office should release their taxes.”
Beto O’Rourke raised $6.1 million for his presidential campaign in his first 24 hours as a candidate, beating every other 2020 Democrat who has disclosed first-day figures, according to his campaign.
The haul surpasses that of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who raised $5.9 million in the 24 hours after his campaign launch.
O’Rourke’s campaign said the $6.1 million came from online contributions. He also said that he didn’t take any political action committee money, and that he received contributions from every state and territory in the nation.
“In just 24 hours, Americans across this country came together to prove that it is possible to run a true grassroots campaign for president — a campaign by all of us for all of us that answers not to the PACs, corporations and special interests but to the people,” O’Rourke said in a statement.
O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, is the second Texan in the crowded Democratic primary to take on President Donald Trump. He joins Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary.
Candidates are not required to disclose their one-day hauls. Still, O’Rourke’s $6.1 million is an eye-popping number — especially when compared to the other Democrats who have already announced their first-day figures. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours as a candidate. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, meanwhile, raised $1 million within the first 48 hours of her campaign.
Expectations for O’Rourke’s one-day figures were high, especially after he shattered Senate campaign fundraising records and raised a total of $80 million last year in his race to unseat Ted Cruz. O’Rourke’s decision to not immediately release the 24-hour fundraising number last week had raised questions about whether he had had a successful haul. During a three-day Iowa trip, he repeatedly declined to share the figure with reporters, at one point acknowledging he was choosing not to.
We’re tracking the Texas stories in the presidential contest, from the Texans in the race to all candidates’ efforts to reach voters and raise money in the state. We’ve also compiled stories from our archives related to Texans running for president.
Beto O’Rourke, on the verge of a presidential campaign, is heading to Iowa.
The former El Paso congressman is set to visit the crucial early voting state this weekend to campaign for Eric Giddens, the Democratic candidate in a special election for an Iowa Senate seat. O’Rourke will visit Waterloo on Saturday to kick off an “afternoon of canvassing, GOTV, and grassroots organizing” for Giddens, according to O’Rourke’s team.
On Monday evening, Giddens tweeted a video from O’Rourke aimed at University of Northern Iowa students, reminding them that Wednesday is the last day to vote early on campus in the special election.
“Supporting [Giddens] for state Senate is the way that we get Iowa — and by extension, this country — back on the right track,” O’Rourke says in the video as he walks through an El Paso neighborhood wearing a “Northern Iowa” hat. “UNI, we’re counting on you and we’re looking forward to seeing you soon.”
The trip will mark O’Rourke’s first to the Hawkeye State as a potential White House contender. He has traveled the country since his closer-than-expected loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November but has not gone to any of the traditional early voting states.
O’Rourke said two weeks ago that he had made a decision about a 2020 run and would share it with supporters soon. The build-up continued over the weekend in Austin, where O’Rourke stayed mum about the timing of the announcement while appearing at the South by Southwest festival.
But all signs point to O’Rourke entering the 2020 race soon, including his decision to get involved in Giddens’ race.
Giddens is on the ballot next Tuesday to replace a Democratic senator who resigned last month in Iowa’s Senate District 30, which covers the northeastern part of the state. O’Rourke is not the only name in the 2020 mix coming to Giddens’ aid — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a declared candidate, is also visiting SD-30 this weekend.
Over the last year, Beto O’Rourke gained a national following for his unorthodox campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. From his ubiquitous livestreams of jampacked campaign events to that viral video of him defending NFL players’ right to protest, the campaign was the latest expression of a political brand he had built up in El Paso, eschewing political labels and partisan attachments while opting for broad, values-based appeals over granular policy pronouncements.
Now, as O’Rourke prepares to join the crowded race of Democrats auditioning to take on President Donald Trump, even those who supported O’Rourke in the Senate race acknowledge a presidential bid would cast a much brighter light on an overarching question: Just who is Beto O’Rourke politically? At the heart of it, according to both supporters and critics, is a simple reality: Running against Cruz in Texas is a lot different from running against a bunch of other Democrats nationally.
“In the Democratic primary for Senate, it was such a no-brainer that for any Democrat or progressive who wanted to beat Ted Cruz, if someone as inspiring as Beto was running, there were very few questions asked about the minutiae of his policy positions,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which endorsed O’Rourke against Cruz. “But in a presidential primary, when there are so many good choices on the table, ideology matters and a candidate’s worldview matters. … And I think Beto will have a lot of worldview questions to fill in for voters, and hopefully it’s good.”
Of course, O’Rourke’s elusive political identity is what got him here in the first place — within 3 percentage points of beating Cruz and on the precipice of a White House bid. And that’s just fine to fans who see him as a transcendent figure in a divided political era — much like Barack Obama, the former president who has said he sees himself in O’Rourke.
“He might have that Obama ability to be what the voter who receives him wants to see — and I say that admiringly, not critically,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder and senior vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington. “Obama was able to make you believe that his ideology was such that it could reflect your hopes — not necessarily that he agreed with you on every single issue, but he could be your standard-bearer regardless of who you were in the progressive family of ideas.”
As he has navigated intraparty currents in recent months, O’Rourke has seemed well aware of the tension over his somewhat fuzzy political persona — and does not appear to have any plans to change.
“In Texas, Ted Cruz called me a socialist. I’m too liberal for Texas,” O’Rourke said during a recent visit to Wisconsin. “Outside of Texas, people say, ‘Is he really a Democrat? I think he’s a closet Republican.’ I don’t know where I am on a spectrum, and I almost could care less. I just want to get to better things for this country.”
“A younger, ragtag crowd”
Whatever it has come to mean, “progressive” is a term that has never been too far from O’Rourke’s political career. It was affixed to him and a few other young up-and-comers who fought their way on to the El Paso City Council in the 2000s, eager to push the border community toward its full potential as a world-class city.
O’Rourke’s time on the council was highlighted by policy positions that were undoubtedly liberal, particularly at the time: ending the drug war by legalizing marijuana, providing health benefits to same-sex couples. Yet there were also episodes that found O’Rourke in less politically clear territory — like when he was caught between powerful business interests and a historic Mexican-American neighborhood that stood in the way of a redevelopment plan.
In any case, few remember O’Rourke as a rigid ideologue or partisan warrior, even as he confronted the internecine strife that regularly takes hold in a Democratic stronghold like El Paso. In some ways, it was in his DNA: His late father, Pat O’Rourke, had served in countywide office as a Democrat before switching parties in the 1990s to run for other positions — and lose.
“That has to have some impact on the way that you think about party,” said Richard Pineda, a University of Texas at El Paso communications professor who has long known O’Rourke. “You can’t just say party only, party forever. … That burns you sometimes, and that’s enough to derail progress or derail action.”
When O’Rourke launched his successful bid for the U.S. House in 2012, he did not make an ideological case against the incumbent, El Paso’s longtime Democratic congressman, Silvestre Reyes, as much as one about his ethics and entrenchment. Along the way, O’Rourke built a coalition that provided an unorthodox contrast to Reyes’ support from the Democratic old guard.
“O’Rourke’s supporters are harder to classify but seem to be a younger, ragtag crowd of unaffiliated liberals, crossover Republicans, independents and moderates looking for a change,” El Paso journalist David Crowder wrote at the time in a local publication.
Exit polling conducted by a student group at Coronado High School and well-regarded locally suggested Crowder was onto something. The group, We(fillintheblank), found Reyes won Democrats but that O’Rourke beat him roughly 2 to 1 among independents and more than 7 to 1 among self-identified Republicans who chose to vote in the Democratic primary.
“A work in progress”
Years later, as O’Rourke again began thinking about running for higher office, he visited with Jim Hightower, the former Texas agriculture commissioner and rabble-rousing populist who was a Bernie Sanders surrogate in 2016. O’Rourke, in Hightower’s telling, expressed his desire to be the “candidate of progressives” in Texas but also did not want to be another statewide candidate who taps out at 40 percent of the vote.
Hightower’s first real encounter with O’Rourke’s politics was in 2015, when he participated in a protest in El Paso against two high-profile trade issues before Congress: Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The debate put O’Rourke in a tough spot, pinched between his representation of a hub of international trade and labor unions who vocally opposed bothTPA andTPP. O’Rourke ended up voting for TPA but withholding support for TPP, which never came up for a vote.
The developments left Hightower convinced O’Rourke is at least willing to listen.
The issue emerged again in the Senate race, when the Texas AFL-CIO initially declined to endorse O’Rourke. There were other factors at play in the decision beyond his support for TPA, but it was an issue the group had nonetheless been talking to O’Rourke about, according to its president, Rick Levy. He said members eventually got to a point where they were “comfortable with him being our Senate candidate when it comes to the issue of trade.”
“What I like about Beto is he is a work in progress,” Hightower said. “He is trying to learn what America, what government, should be and do, not just in terms of particular policies but in terms of values and how he can express his personal values and fairness and opportunity for all in a political agenda.”
That dynamic was evident in O’Rourke’s Senate race. Through countless town halls, O’Rourke expressed a set of clearly fixed beliefs — there should not be a border wall, for example — but also demonstrated an almost instinctive receptiveness when confronted with new ideas, often thinking through them out loud, regardless of how politically fraught they were.
One prominent example was the “Abolish ICE” movement, which caught fire last summer. Pressed about it by an activist, O’Rourke gave a confusing answer in which he both said he would be “open to” eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main federal agency in charge of immigration law enforcement, and then argued against the idea because he did not know what the immediate consequences would be for immigration law enforcement. For the rest of the race, Cruz hammered O’Rourke for the former part of the answer, while Abolish ICE activists balked at the latter part. In the weeks that followed, O’Rourke never again went as far as expressing openness to abolishing ICE but emphasized the need to reform the agency’s practices.
Even when O’Rourke could be hard to pin down at times, he made people confident that he cared about what they cared about — and “that is a gift,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the progressive group Progress Texas. On O’Rourke’s Senate bid, Espinoza added, “I don’t think it was as issues-driven as values-driven.”
That campaign style would likely come under stronger scrutiny in the presidential race, where some Democratic candidates are already taking firm stances on hot-button issues and rolling out detailed proposals.
“You have to differentiate yourself in this field — you can’t just be like the cool skateboarding guy you dated in college,” said Laura Moser, a former Democratic congressional candidate from Houston who hails from the progressive wing of the party. “You have to have something really strong to differentiate yourself policy-wise.”
O’Rourke has appeared conscious of the need for a more detailed platform, especially after a Washington Post interview published in mid-January that called into question his policy know-how on a key issue: the border. Since then, O’Rourke has unveiled a 10-point immigration plan, as well as a five-point outline on criminal justice reform. Each plan contains ideas he has largely expressed before.
“I’m not big on labels”
It was not long after O’Rourke emerged as a potential presidential candidate late last year that questions about his political identity came into sharp relief. They were mostly confined to social media and a few opinion pieces, but there were several common threads: his less-than-ironclad support for things like Medicare for All and tuition-free college – two of the most prominent issues advocated by an increasingly vocal left wing of the party, his membership in Congress in the centrist New Democratic Coalition and not the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the amount of campaign contributions he got from oil and gas executives in a state dominated by the industry. Analyses of his voting record in the House highlighted how at times he voted with Republicans despite representing one of the bluest districts in the country.
They were the kinds of issues that may have come up had O’Rourke faced a competitive Senate primary last March. Yet there were signs even then of weak spots in his Democratic base. Two challengers with far fewer resources managed to draw more than a third of the primary vote, capping O’Rourke’s support at an embarrassing 62 percent. Still, the second-place finisher, a self-described “Berniecrat” named Sema Hernandez, met with O’Rourke after the primary and eventually endorsed him.
After the November election, as interest in O’Rourke’s 2020 plans intensified along with heightened scrutiny from his left, he did not do much to appease the newfound skeptics. Asked at a December town hall if he considered himself a progressive, he said he did not know and that he was “not big on labels” — a familiar refrain for anyone who has followed his campaigns but a splash of cold water to those just beginning to size up the relatively new national figure.
Since then, O’Rourke has only had to navigate more fault lines within his party. He has spoken positively about the concept behind the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to fight climate change spearheaded by freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. But he has also said he disagrees with some of the specifics in the proposal and that he prefers it more narrowly focus on climate than it currently does.
Of Ocasio-Cortez herself, O’Rourke is a fan. During a visit last month to his alma mater, Columbia University, O’Rourke praised her for breathing new life into the national political discourse, even jokingly lamenting that she is too young to run for president.
Still, O’Rourke has decisively steered clear of the ideology that has fueled Ocasio-Cortez’s recent rise: democratic socialism. Asked twice in recent weeks about socialism, O’Rourke has responded by pointedly declaring himself a capitalist, saying most recently that he does not “see how we’re able to meet any of the fundamental challenges that we have as a country without, in part, harnessing the power of the market.”
O’Rourke also has a unique footing in the party’s biggest, most recent divide: the 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. O’Rourke largely stayed out of the contest, waiting to endorse Clinton until she had all but wrapped up the nomination, a move he said was deliberate because he did not want to tip the scales as a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention. Even as he backed Clinton, O’Rourke praised Sanders’ contributions to the primary.
In the Senate race, O’Rourke was uninterested in relitigating his party’s 2016 presidential primary — at times emphatically so. During an event in San Marcos early in the race, O’Rourke became frustrated as an audience member prodded him to take sides in the lingering tensions from the primary.
“I frankly could care less,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t care about Bernie. I don’t care about Hillary. I don’t care about Tom Perez or the DNC. I care about Texas. I care about you …. So don’t ask me about Bernie. I don’t care about Bernie.”
The 2016 primary was not the last time in recent history that O’Rourke grappled with the question of who was best to represent his party. Weeks after Clinton lost to Trump, O’Rourke joined with 62 other House Democrats to vote against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader, backing Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio instead. At the time, O’Rourke said he was grateful for Pelosi’s long tenure but believed that “for any organization to succeed, there must be a change in leadership to ensure that it continues to meet new and evolving opportunities and challenges.”
If Pelosi, now the speaker, harbored any ill will, it has not been apparent as O’Rourke’s star has risen. She lauded O’Rourke in a video that was played before he received the El Pasoan of the Year award last month in his hometown. Upon taking the stage, O’Rourke jokingly said he had not been sure Pelosi knew who he was until he saw the video.
Another part of O’Rourke’s political brand that will likely receive fresh scrutiny in a presidential campaign is his occasionally go-it-alone approach to party politics. That was on display from the start of the cycle, when he went on a profile-raising road trip with Texas’ most vulnerable Republican congressman, Will Hurd, and then took a vow of neutrality in the race to unseat the Helotes lawmaker.
The eventual Democratic nominee against Hurd, Gina Ortiz Jones, ended up losing to him by less than a half of a percentage point while O’Rourke carried the district by 5 points.
It was not the only episode that left some fellow Democrats questioning whether O’Rourke was a team player. While he appeared at a handful of events with fellow statewide candidates when they were in the same parts of the state, he did not go out of his way to campaign with — or for — the attention-starved bunch, absent at the overwhelming majority of joint appearances they organized in the months before the election.
Of course, Texas Democrats ended up almost universally grateful for the impact O’Rourke had down ballot by running such a strong race at the top of the ticket. But that does not mean some do not wonder what could have been.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that everybody down ballot would’ve appreciated a more concerted effort from the top down, and in the long run, I don’t see how that could’ve hurt Beto’s candidacy,” said a former top staffer to another Democratic statewide candidate, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the party’s biggest star right now. “If anything, it would’ve helped it.”
Then again, it is unsurprising to many that O’Rourke would chart his own course in any political aspect. Hightower said he’s offered O’Rourke a number of progressive ideas — and “he’s even accepted a few of them, but he puts them in his own terms, and I have huge respect for that.”
“It doesn’t always fit into a liberal-progressive-conservative-moderate package,” Espinoza said of O’Rourke’s appeal. “He is very clearly a progressive voice, but the way he packages it may not always sound the way other people say it.”
Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso and Progress Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Beto O’Rourke is not running for U.S. Senate in 2020, a person familiar with his thinking told The Texas Tribune.
The Dallas Morning News first reported Wednesday that O’Rourke, a Democrat, would not take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, after the former El Paso congressman’s closer-than-expected loss last year to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz. O’Rourke has since been encouraged to run for president and has said he hopes to have a 2020 decision by the end of the month — which is Thursday.
“Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “We are excited to share it with everyone soon.”
Amid the heightened 2020 speculation, O’Rourke is expected to make a public appearance Wednesday evening in El Paso. He is scheduled to kick off the first meeting of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, the anti-gun violence group. The chapter was started by his 2018 campaign manager, Jody Casey.
O’Rourke’s decision not to challenge Cornyn comes after weeks of declining to rule it out amid encouragement from some Democrats who saw it as a more winnable race for him than the White House contest. However, O’Rourke never publicly said he was specifically considering a Senate run — something he has said about a presidential bid.
“Am I the best person to lead this country?” O’Rourke said during a recent visit to a college class in El Paso. “Beyond my ego and my ambition … what is the best thing for the United States of America? And in thinking through that, and in suspending your ego in that process, is tough. And so I’m in that process of thinking this through, talking to [my wife] Amy, listening to good friends and then hearing what you all have to say right now.”
O’Rourke reportedly met earlier this month with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., about a possible Cornyn challenge — a meeting that Cornyn alluded to as he reacted to news of O’Rourke’s decision Wednesday evening.
“Looks like Schumer couldn’t close the deal,” Cornyn tweeted.
Beto O’Rourke is days away from making a big decision about his political future.
If he wants to capitalize on the political superstardom he accumulated after barely losing to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in last year’s midterms, two obvious paths lie before him: He could run for president or pursue another Senate bid, this time against John Cornyn.
The former congressman has kept up the suspense in recent days, keeping his options open amid intense speculation as to what his final decision may be. O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, said he’ll decide before the end of February whether he’ll throw his hat in the ring to challenge Republican Donald Trump for the presidency.
Here are six questions that loom over O’Rourke as he makes up his mind.
Could he replicate his blockbuster Senate fundraising numbers?
O’Rourke rose to national prominence in part because of his eye-popping fundraising against Cruz. Gathered largely through small-dollar donations, the money he easily raked in totaled over $80 million — without a dime of PAC money — compared to the Republican incumbent’s $39 million.
Putting together money for a presidential campaign — especially in an already crowded primary — is a different story.
Then there’s the question of whether O’Rourke will again crusade against taking money from wealthy donors and PACs — a move that would mirror what other Democratic candidates have done. Castro disavowed PAC money before he even entered the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also said she won’t take PAC money of any kind.
Should he skip the White House and run another statewide campaign?
While occupying the Oval Office obviously comes with its own set of perks, some top Democrats are encouraging the El Pasoan to take a more measured approach: skip the White House and challenge Cornyn.
Politico reported last week that O’Rourke met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to talk about another Senate campaign. And a new poll conducted by the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling shows O’Rourke could pose a threat to Cornyn if he goes that route. The former Democratic congressman trails Cornyn by 2 percentage points, 45 percent to 47 percent, in a hypothetical matchup, according to the survey. Eight percent of respondents were unsure.
Some political pundits predict that having O’Rourke’s name at the top of the ticket could elevate down-ballot candidates in the state and make Texas a competitive grab for whichever Democrat faces Trump — a move that could put the state in play for the first time in decades.
“One would be hard-pressed to look at the crowded field of reasonably formidable contenders that are looking to get the Democratic nomination, and then look at what the field will look like from Cornyn’s position and not think that the odds are much higher of winning the Senate seat than winning the Democratic primary nomination and then the presidency,” said Jim Henson, one of the pollsters behind the University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls.
To be sure, Cornyn is aware that O’Rourke may be a competitor in 2020. In a fundraising email where he announced a “STOP BETO FUND,” the senator told supporters Wednesday, “We need to be ready for anything.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but 2018 Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke is talking about another run in 2020 — and this time he’s collaborating with Chuck Schumer to paint a target on my back,” the email reads. “It’s still early, but we CAN NOT afford to let Beto carry this momentum into 2020.”
Can he take the style of his Senate campaign national?
O’Rourke’s Senate bid was unconventional. He did not rely on pollsters or consultants to shape his message, he eschewed all PAC money, he livestreamed constantly and he traveled everywhere, going to all 254 Texas counties. Some of those strategies may be easier than others to replicate in a far more demanding national campaign.
Asked Tuesday if he’d do anything different as a White House hopeful — such as hire a pollster — O’Rourke said he didn’t know.
“I haven’t really gotten to thinking through those kinds of issues,” O’Rourke told reporters after an event in El Paso. “I think any campaign I run … I would want to run in the same way that I run every race — just as grassroots as possible, powered by people, directly connected to the people I want to serve and represent.
“You would see much the same style of campaign, whatever we do next,” O’Rourke said, quickly adding, “if we do anything next.”
Does his resume measure up to the contenders already in the race?
O’Rourke stood out in Texas last year, but standing out nationally could prove to be a challenge for him. He hasn’t held many elected offices and doesn’t have many major legislative or policy accomplishments to point to. Aside from that, he lost the race he’s most well known for.
The Democrats who have committed to running in 2020, meanwhile, may look a bit more impressive on paper. Among them are current U.S. senators and the runner-up for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Other well-known Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, are still deliberating runs.
What might work in O’Rourke’s favor is not running on his resume but highlighting his rock-star status that allowed him to energize voters and grassroots in what turned out to be a nail-biter election against Cruz.
How will a White House run affect his family?
During his Senate campaign, O’Rourke often mentioned his wife, Amy, and three young children, Ulysses, Molly and Henry. When the race concluded and the former congressman first announced he wasn’t ruling out a presidential run, he made clear his family would factor into his decision.
“Now that that is no longer possible, we’re thinking through a number of things, and Amy and I made a decision not to rule anything out,” O’Rourke said at the time. “The best advice I received from people who’ve run for and won — and run for and lost — elections like this is: Don’t make any decisions about anything until you’ve had some time to hang with your family and just be human. And so I am following that advice.”
During a February interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, the El Pasoan said that he and former President Barack Obama discussed the toll a White House bid can put on a family — something O’Rourke is seemingly still coming to terms with as he mulls a 2020 presidential run.
“For me, it will really be family” that makes the final decision, O’Rourke told Winfrey.
O’Rourke’s family has appeared with him at events within the the state as he ponders entering the crowded Democratic presidential primary. Arecent example was during a march and rally in El Paso that was steps away from a campaign rally Trump held in the border city at around the same time.
Is he the best representative for a changing Democratic Party?
With multiple unconventional candidates in the ring, traditional campaign tactics might get thrown out the window, meaning the Democrats will have to look for unique ways to capture the attention of a growing voter base that’s seeing more black Americans and Hispanics enter the fray.
The changing demographics of the Democratic party also have some wondering if O’Rourke — a white male — will be the best representative for the party in 2020.
Aside from the changing racial demographics of the party, Democrats across the nation are grappling with a potentially burgeoning leftist shift in the party, especially as prominent figures like U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Sanders accumulate national acclaim for energizing grassroots and pushing policies that align with Democratic socialism.
As the Ocasio-Cortezes of the party and ideas like #AbolishICE excite the left, there’s a question of who will motivate more voters in 2020, a progressive candidate or a centrist one.
O’Rourke told reporters in El Paso this week that he doesn’t “see how we’re able to meet any of the fundamental challenges we have as a country without in part harnessing the power of the market.”
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
In the City of El Paso, two visions for the future of Texas and the future of America were on display, that of President Trump and that of former Congressman Robert Francis O’Rourke.
The President’s vision is based on reality and action; the other is based on myths and knee-jerk emotional reactions.
“We believe in the American Constitution and our great rule of law; we believe in the dignity of work and the sanctity of life; we believe that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American way,” President Trump told the people of El Paso at his rally Monday night. “We believe in religious liberty, the right to free speech, and the right to keep and bear arms. We believe that children should be taught to love our country, honor our incredible history, and always respect our great American flag. We believe that the first duty of government is to be loyal to its citizens, and we live by the words of our national motto… In God We Trust.”
In addition to listing the fundamental American values shared by Republicans and loathed by the extremist Democrat Party, the also President highlighted, in vivid and compelling terms, the urgent humanitarian and security crisis on the border, vowing that the wall will be built to protect American communities.
“This weekend some Democrats even proposed a measure that would force the release of thousands of criminal illegal aliens,” he noted, rattling off a series of shocking statistics on the thousands of violent criminals currently in ICE custody, “including dangerous felons convicted of rape, sex trafficking, violent assault, and even murder.”
“Beto,” on the other hand, pretended that there is absolutely no crisis on the border at all, accusing President Trump of “hatred and intolerance” for wanting to build the wall.
Of course, he also ignored the fact that President Trump is not against legal immigration, and only wants to stop people from cutting in line without going through the legal process.
There’s nothing in his self-indulgent protest rally that we haven’t already seen from Robert O’Rourke, who showed us he will still drone on at length about the plight of foreigners who are caught trying to evade our law enforcement and infiltrate our country, yet won’t so much as a make a phone call to American families from his own district who have lost loved ones to illegal alien crime.
He even made a call for full-scale amnesty, saying, “Make every single one them [Dreamers] U.S. citizens…and let’s make sure that their parents…have a path to citizenship.”
He insisted that illegal aliens are harmless, but then ignored the fact that his allies in Congress are pushing to force the government to release thousands of illegal aliens with criminal records from DHS custody into our communities.
In fact, he dismissed the whole idea that criminals are coming over our border at all, saying, “You know who we are apprehending? Kids, children…if they’re lucky, with their moms or their dads.”
In contrast, during the real rally Monday night in El Paso, President Trump delivered honest talk about the urgent crisis that demands a real, workable solution to secure the border.
O’Rourke can hand wave all he wants about how mean President Trump is, but he can’t deny that border walls have worked wonderfully in his own home town, and he can’t charm his way out of the fact that 89 percent of our Border Patrol agents agree with President Trump that more physical barriers are needed to secure hundreds more miles of strategic sections of the border.
There were two visions on display in El Paso: President Trump’s sincere desire to protect America, and Robert O’Rourke’s superficial appeal to the far-left Democrat base — and if the crowd sizes at the dueling rallies were any indication, the people of Texas stand firmly behind the winning vision of Donald Trump.
Mica Mosbacher is the American author of The Hurricane Factor: Stormside Patriots and the memoir Racing Forward. She is a member of the National Advisory Board of Trump 2020, a political strategist and a frequent guest conservative commentator on Fox News, FBN, BBC World, BBC Newsday, TRT, ITN, LBC and CBC Radio, ITV.
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Dressed in warm winter gear, and fighting wind and cold temperatures thousands drove, Ubered, Lyfted, and walked to gather next to Bowie High School, for the March for Truth -in protest of President Donald Trump’s visit to the borderland on Monday.
Many in the crowd held colorful signs that varied from Basta Trump (Stop Trump), to We Don’t Need a Border Wall. Others illustrated Trump’s hair disheveled by wind; and at the rendezvous point, at Chalio Acosta Park, a large inflated balloon showcased the president dressed in a clansman outfit.
The March for Truth, led by the El Paso Women’s March, in conjunction with the Border Network for Human Rights and 45 more organizations, began just a mile east from the El Paso County Coliseum, where President Donald Trump would make his appearance.
With the backdrop of the U.S. Border behind them; and the sunset of the Franklin Mountains in front former U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke and newly elected U.S. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar spoke to the crowd.
“We have had a difficult two years El Paso,” Escobar said. “We have been at the center of the politics of cruelty. Politics that have ripped children from the arms of their mothers. Politics that have been preventing asylum seekers from seeking refuge on this very soil. Politics of cruelty that have imprisoned children in Tornillo. And are we angry? You’re damn right we are angry.”
Cheers and applause erupted.
Additional speakers at the March included former State Senator Wendy Davis; Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights; Ruben Garcia, Director of the Annunciation House; Linda Rivas, and Claudia Yoli Ferla, a DACA Dreamer who was brought here illegally as a child by her mother in the hopes of seeking a better life.
“In El Paso she was a waitress, a cook, a dishwasher a caregiver, a school crossing guard – you name it,” Ferla said. “She was everything and anything she needed to be proudly so that I could be provided with a normal childhood despite being undocumented. […]So when this man (Trump), comes into mine, yours and our community, to tell us everything like lies and hate – I am reminded of the root of my power – my mother’s love. My mother’s dreams. And together in comunidad we have the power to also fight back – because when they hurt one of us – they hurt all of us.”
With the crowd pumped, event speakers led the march down Delta Drive, and into Chalio Acosta Park where mariachis and several other musicians welcomed the large crowd. Then, O’Rourke took the stage.
“The city has been one of the safest in the United States of America,” He said. “For 20 years and counting it was safe long before a wall was built here in 2008. In fact, a little less safe after the wall was built. We can show, as we make our stand here together tonight, that walls do not make us safer. Walls will require us to take someone’s property – their house, their farm, their ranch. We know that walls do not save lives. Walls end lives.”
In his speech, O’Rourke mentioned the history of El Paso, including the story of Thelma White, who was denied admission into Texas Western University in 1954 because she was black. White hired attorney Thurgood Marshall, and in 1955 U.S. District Judge R.E. Thomason ruled in favor or white, allowing her and in turn – other black students admission to higher education in El Paso.
O’Rouke told the story of the 1949 Bowie Bears Baseball Team who won the championship in Austin after witnessing racism at the hotels and restaurants; He told the story of World War I Veteran Marcelino Serna, a U.S. Army Pvt, who became a U.S. citizen in 1924.
Serna was the first Hispanic to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The port of entry between Tornillo and Guadalupe Mexico was named in his honor. O’Rourke then pointed to the park across the way, named after the World War II Veterans Company E – many of them who were seniors from Bowie High school who served in France, Italy and North Africa.
“Here in the largest bi-national community, in the western hemisphere, 2.5 million people; two countries; speaking two languages and two cultures and two histories – who come together and are joined – not separated – by the Rio Grande River. We are forming something far greater and more powerful than the sum of people; or the sum of our parts. We have so much to give and so much to show the rest of the country and we are doing it right now.”
Just after 7 p.m., through gusts of wind, President Trump’s introductory song, the Rolling Stone’s, “Sympathy for the Devil,” could be heard. It was followed by Trump’s voice that echoed and the cheers and shouts could be heard from the inside the El Paso County Coliseum just a short distance away.
O’Rourke and march supporters were not deterred as they cheered and chanted, “Si se Puede,” and “Beto! Beto!” and “USA! USA!” O’Rourke then called for immigration reform to include safety for asylum seekers, citizenship for Dreamers and their parents, investment in better infrastructure for the personnel and the ports of entry.
Both the march and the rally come days after President Trump incorrectly claimed during the State of the Union on February 7, after it was delayed a week due to the Government shutdown, that El Paso was considered at one point, “one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities” and that the Border Wall El Paso was now one of the safest cities in nation.
The border wall that Trump referred to as a recent barrier in his State of the Union, was a bipartisan decision made in 2006, during the George W. Bush Administration.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 replaced wired fencing along Tecate and Calexico, California; Douglas, Ariz., Columbus, New Mexico to ten miles east of El Paso, Texas; and Del Rio, Texas to five miles southeast of Eagle Pass, Texas; and 15 miles northwest of Laredo, Texas to Brownsville Texas.
The act also called for ground-sensors, satellites, radar coverage and additional means of technology with the use of more effective personnel along the southern border.
Additionally, El Paso was considered among the safest cities in the nation prior to the implementation of the Secure Fence Act according to FBI crime statistics.
Photos by author & Steve Zimmerman – El Paso Herald Post
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Under a crystal-clear West Texas sky, El Pasoans gathered to march through Downtown El Paso as part of the nation-wide Women’s March.
With scores of groups from different walks of life, the participants were entertained by dancing groups, musical performances and informed about topics, with keynote speaker Congresswoman Veronica Escobar capping the event. Her predecessor, Beto O’Rourke and wife Amy were also in attendance.
As part of our coverage, photographer Ruben R. Ramirez captured the events and we bring you his view of the march with this ‘Story in Many Pics.’
Gallery courtesy Ruben R. Ramirez – Special to the El Paso Herald Post
The Texas Tribune January 16, 2019NewsComments Off on Beto O’Rourke’s Immigration Plan: No Wall, but Few Specifics
In a digital ad that recently went viral, Beto O’Rourke tore into President Trump’s desired border wall with soaring footage of the Rio Grande Valley and an explanation of what the wall would do: cut off access to the river, shrink the size of the United States and force the seizure of privately-held land.
It noted that most undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States in the past decade came not over the border but on visas that then expired.
So what should be done to address visa overstays?
“I don’t know,” O’Rourke said, pausing in a lengthy interview.
O’Rourke, who represented a border district in the House for six years, talked through the issue and came up with a possible solution: The United States could harmonize its visa system with Mexico’s to keep better track of who is coming into the country and leaving it.
“That’s an answer,” he said, “but that’s something that we should be debating.”
When it comes to many of the biggest policy issues facing the country today, O’Rourke’s default stance is to call for a debate — even on issues related to the border and immigration, which he has heavily emphasized in videos posted to Facebook and Instagram over the past month.
O’Rourke’s approach reflects how he is likely to handle issues should he launch a presidential campaign. Beyond a few mainstream Democratic stances — including closing private immigration prisons, allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens and modernizing the work visa system — O’Rourke insists the thorny immigration answers will come from everyday Americans. It’s an approach that puts off specifics that might define him or narrow his appeal in a presidential race — but O’Rourke says he is being open-minded, as he wishes more politicians would be.
“That’s a problem when you’re like, ‘It will be a wall,’ or ‘It will be this,’ or ‘We can only do it with this,’” O’Rourke said when asked why he doesn’t have firm stances. “The genius is we can nonviolently resolve our differences, though I won’t get to my version of perfect or I, working with you, will get to something better than what we have today . . . It’s rare that someone’s ever been able to impose their will unilaterally in this country. We don’t want that.”
He insists that once Americans are informed about “the facts and the story and the information and the opportunity,” they will come to the right conclusions about what to do about an issue that has divided the country for decades.
“I trust the wisdom of people. And I’m confident — especially after having traveled Texas for two years — people are good, fundamentally, and if given the choice to do the right thing, they will. To do the good thing, they will,” he said, referring to his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign while giving a walking tour of El Paso and its Mexican sister city, Juarez.
On other issues, his approach was similar.
When asked whether he agrees with Trump’s plan to quickly withdraw troops from Syria, O’Rourke said he would like to see “a debate, a discussion, a national conversation about why we’re there, why we fight, why we sacrifice the lives of American service members, why we’re willing to take the lives of others” in all the countries where the U.S. is involved.
“There may be a very good reason to do it. I don’t necessarily understand — and I’ve been a member of Congress for six years,” O’Rourke said. “We haven’t had a meaningful discussion about these wars since 2003.”
Asked about the “Green New Deal” being crafted by Democrats to dramatically curb climate change emissions and heavily invest in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, he praised it as a “bold” start that avoided “wishy-washy change.”
The details are apt to change, he said, adding, “But, thank God the work has been done to articulate the goal, the vision, the means to achieve it, and that’s a perfect point from which to start a conversation.”
As O’Rourke’s decision on a presidential campaign nears, immigration is the issue in which he has chosen to invest his time — putting him directly at odds with President Trump, against whom the next Democratic nominee will compete.
For all his current focus on the border, O’Rourke played a negligible role in shaping immigration policy during his six years in Congress, which ended this month. Even now, he rarely uses his expanding national platform to call for specific legislation or transformative changes in the immigration system.
He said he believes that the border is already fully secured and that further investment would take it even further “past the point of diminishing returns,” pushing migrants seeking to cross the border illegally into more dangerous and desolate territory.
“You will ensure death,” he said of Trump’s proposed wall. “You and I, as Americans, have caused the deaths of others through these walls.”
Just as Trump has used the heart-wrenching stories of Americans murdered by undocumented immigrants to build support for his wall, O’Rourke leans on a narrative of migrants and those living along the border. In his unsuccessful race for the Senate last year, O’Rourke frequently compared Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and being refused entry into many countries, including the United States.
Luis Gutierrez, the former Democratic congressman from Illinois who spearheaded immigration measures in the House for many years, said he was “very pleasantly surprised” to see O’Rourke suddenly interested in immigration last year. Even though O’Rourke represented a majority Hispanic district along the border, he was not deeply involved with immigration reform, Gutierrez said. But he praised O’Rourke for his recent efforts to demystify the border and bring attention to immigration issues.
“A lot of people want to talk about where people start,” he said, “and I like to talk about where people are at.”
The last major attempt at a sweeping immigration package came just after O’Rourke took office. In June 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill that would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to legally stay in the United States and eventually become citizens. It also would have doubled the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southern border and authorized 700 miles of fencing.
O’Rourke said at the time that he supported “a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that pay their taxes, obey our laws and learn English,” but he opposed efforts to “militarize our border against a threat that does not exist.”
Then-House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to take up the Senate’s immigration bill, at which point, O’Rourke said, the issue died.
“We could have these discussions in caucus meetings, but it’s like spitting in the wind if [Republican lawmakers] are not going to actually engage in the conversation,” O’Rourke said. “There was a huge missed opportunity, which created the opportunity — in some ways — for Trump.”
O’Rourke is trying to undo Trump’s image of the border by showing Americans what he sees.
In the past month, he has introduced his followers to migrant families just released from detention centers, broadcast a rally held outside a tent camp that once housed thousands of detained migrant children and showed the numbers written on the wrists of Guatemalan migrants waiting their turn to claim asylum in the United States. He has taken his followers along on a late-night walk through his historic El Paso neighborhood and a Saturday night trip to Juarez for dinner with his family.
He has interviewed his neighbors — and, rather famously, his dental hygienist during a cleaning — about life on the border, reinforcing their feeling of safety in a zone the president has condemned as crime-ridden.
After Trump spoke to the nation about his demand for border wall funding in exchange for reopening the government, O’Rourke aired, to thousands, a conversation with two close friends discussing the president’s messaging.
“He has seized this emotional language very effectively — completely irresponsibly, not tethered to the truth,” O’Rourke said. “But if I don’t live in El Paso, if I haven’t had the experience that we have, if I live in Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, the northern border, I may not know any better . . . The president of the United States just said that there are rapists and criminals and murderers who will chop your head off coming to get us . . . And so I can see responding that way.”
Throughout the two-hour interview — which was often interrupted by bystanders urging him to run for president — O’Rourke boomeranged between a bright-eyed hope that the United States will soon dramatically change its approach to a whole host of issues and a dismal suspicion that the country is now incapable of implementing sweeping change.
When asked which it is, O’Rourke paused.
“I’m hesitant to answer it because I really feel like it deserves its due, and I don’t want to give you a — actually, just selfishly, I don’t want a sound bite of it reported, but, yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work?” O’Rourke said. “Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships . . . and security agreements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?”
O’Rourke doesn’t yet know the answer, but he’s ready to discuss it.
SAN ANTONIO — Lingering around after Julián Castro announced his presidential campaign here Saturday, Santa Garcia Rivera and her niece, Santa Garcia Reyes, said they were thrilled to see someone from the city’s hardscrabble West Side reach for the highest office in the country. But they also expressed some ambivalence as they sized up a potential 2020 presidential field that could include another Texas Democrat: Beto O’Rourke.
“It’s really tough,” said Garcia Reyes, a 45-year-old education specialist for Early Head Start. “I think they have a lot of the same values.”
Ultimately, Garcia Reyes said, “my loyalty is going to be to Julián… just seeing that he’s never forgot about the people here in San Antonio.” Her aunt, however, seemed less sure which Texan would end up earning her vote if they both run.
Such mixed feelings are not uncommon among Texas Democrats, who could end up with two of their own running in 2020. O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz last year made him a national star, eclipsing Castro’s longtime status — along with his brother — as Texas Democrats’ best hope. Now, all eyes are on whether O’Rourke will ride the momentum to a 2020 bid of his own and officially test the loyalties of people like Garcia Rivera and her niece.
As O’Rourke’s 2020 buzz has intensified — with early polls showing him far outranking his fellow Texan — Castro has said there is enough room in the race for both of them. And both have said the other’s plans will not affect theirs.
All this is unfolding as delegate-rich Texas is poised to have considerable influence in the 2020 nominating process with its early March primary — a high-stakes moment if the two Texans make can it there.
O’Rourke does not appear to be in a rush to make a 2020 decision and is not expected to make one until February at the earliest. In the meantime, every move he makes is drawing intense attention — from the videos he has tweeted out arguing against President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall to his Instagram posts Thursday from the dentist’s chair. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey announced Friday that shewill interview O’Rourke on Feb. 5 in New York City, an event guaranteed to captivate the political world.
Castro and O’Rourke are not particularly close but have appeared friendly in public, and Castro and his brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, joined O’Rourke on the campaign trail during the closing weeks of the U.S. Senate race. The brothers’ political paths also intersected with O’Rourke’s in the first few months of 2017, when Joaquin Castro mulled a U.S. Senate run at the same time O’Rourke did. Joaquin Castro ultimately passed on the Senate bid, announcing his decision about a month after O’Rourke launched his campaign.
Speaking before his brother Saturday, Joaquin Castro said there will be “a lot of great candidates” in the presidential race — many of them friends the brothers respect — “but I know we have the best candidate with the best ideas and the biggest heart.” Joaquin Castro told reporters afterward he was not concerned about a potential O’Rourke candidacy.
“All of the candidates who are going to enter this race — there’s something good about everybody, so [Julián]’s just gonna go and do the hard work of focusing on his vision and getting his message out to people,” Joaquin Castro said, “and we understand it’s a competition obviously and it’s a race, but you really can’t focus on what other people are doing.”
Asked what his message was for conflicted Texas Democrats, Joaquin Castro said, “I would ask them to follow their heart and their mind.”
Some Texas Democrats are not waiting on O’Rourke’s decision to give their unequivocal backing to Julián Castro. Among them is freshman state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, who was the first introductory speaker Saturday. Talarico recalledhis experience teaching middle school on San Antonio’s West Side while Castro was the city’s mayor, pushing an education-centric agenda. In an interview afterward, Talarico said it was seeing Castro’s leadership “up close and personal in San Antonio” that led him to offer him his “full, complete endorsement for 2020.”
“I’m a huge fan of Congressman O’Rourke, he campaigned with me, his campaign was hugely helpful in our race, he would make an incredible president, but just my history has been with Secretary Castro,” Talarico said. “No matter who else runs, he’s gonna be my candidate.”
Talarico was joined in the lineup by a second state representative, Diego Bernal, a longtime friend of the Castros. And in another show of support among House Democrats, state Rep. Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass tweeted Friday that he was “all in” for Julián Castro.
Other Democrats are keeping their powder dry for now, reiterating how much of a net positive it is for Texas to have two Democrats in the 2020 mix.
“I grew up here and never in my lifetime has Texas been a battleground state,” said Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former congressional candidate from the Houston suburbs who attended Castro’s announcement. “Texas is a battleground state right now, and the energy, the excitement here — to see so many people coming out for a Texas Democrat running for president — that’s huge.”
Texas Democratic up-and-comers like Kulkarni face something of a conundrum when it comes to making a decision about who to support in 2020. Castro donated to their campaigns through his Opportunity First PAC and stumped for them. O’Rourke, meanwhile, gave them speaking time at his massively attended events and had an impact on their margins with his closer-than-expected loss at the top of the ticket.
Castro used his Opportunity First PAC to endorse over two dozen candidates last cycle in Texas, including the two biggest winners: Colin Allred, who unseated U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and Lizzie Fletcher, who beat U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. Castro was especially involved with Allred, who worked under Castro at HUD, backing him early on in what became a crowded primary.
Allred has not shied away from Castro’s 2020 maneuvering in recent weeks, issuing a supportive statement when he formed an exploratory committee a month ago, sending a fundraising email for the committee and talking him up during a recent Sunday show appearance.
“Well, I certainly like my former boss, Julián Castro, who is a friend of mine and a mentor of mine,” Allred said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” adding, “we have a lot of political talent in Texas.”
For those trying to imagine what it would belike to have both Texas Democrats in the race, Castro’s Saturdayannouncement was instructive. He appeared to speak from a teleprompter, the lineup of introductory speakers was carefully curated to highlight his accomplishments and campaign surrogates were made available to the media afterward — all contrasts with the freewheeling, unvarnished style of O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate run.
To political observers, Julián Castro’s announcement speech invoked O’Rourke’s 2018 bid in at least one way: Castro vowed not to take campaign contributions from PACs, a hallmark of O’Rourke’s run. The promise, which Castro has been making for about a month now, was among the bigger applause lines as he spoke atthe West Side’s historic Plaza Guadalupe.
Texas Republicans, for their part, were happy to stoke divisions between Castro and O’Rourke on Saturday. On a conference call with reporters before Castro’s announcement, Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said the soon-to-be candidate was “absolutely” grappling with having his spotlight stolen by O’Rourke.
“As someone who made it obvious for a long time that he felt like he had a right to go for the presidency, he’s got to be incredibly miffed at how quickly… the void of absence was filled during the last two years,” Dickey said.
Like it or not, the 2020 election cycle has already arrived in Texas.
Votes were still being tallied in the November 6 midterm elections as the state’s Democrats began considering how they could build on their gains in two years, further loosening the GOP’s longtime grip on state government. Heartened by Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly close race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and the down-ballot victories that accompanied it, Texas Democrats are now looking toward 2020 to put an exclamation point on the state’s shift to a more competitive political environment.
“Turning Texas blue is not an event, it’s a process,” state Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in an interview, “and I think 2020 will put us, if not blue, purple — deep purple.”
In the past — especially after the last midterms, when another Democratic star, Wendy Davis, lost to Gov. Greg Abbott in a landslide — such talk has drawn scoffs from Republicans who maintained the state remained solidly red. But in the wake of last week’s elections, the state’s Republicans have been striking a different tone, well aware of the challenge forming in 2020 — a presidential election year — if Democrats are able to make the progress they did last week in a midterm.
“I’m encouraging every Republican activist, donor, candidate and officeholder to take very, very seriously the need to earn and get every vote possible for 2020 starting now,” Hinojosa’s GOP counterpart, James Dickey, said in an interview. “The candidates and officeholders and activists that we work with have been preparing for — and prepared to battle for — 2020 for over a year and a half now, and the urgency that we all have felt about preparing diligently for 2020 was reinforced by last week’s results.”
When the dust settled on election night, O’Rourke lost to Cruz by less than 3 percentage points, and Democrats picked up two U.S. House seats, two state Senate seats and a dozen state House seats. There also was a notable shift in the political landscape, with Democrats further fortifying their hold on big-city counties and making serious inroads into traditionally Republican suburban counties.
Looking toward 2020, Dickey identified a few areas of particular focus for the state party, saying it is “continuing to expand our efforts in urban and suburban areas and with the demographic groups that we have not yet successfully reached with our message.”
If there is one thing Texas Republicans are taking heart in as they approach 2020, it is that the state will no longer have straight-ticket voting, which Republicans in the state’s big-city counties blamed for their massive losses on Nov. 6. Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill to get rid of the straight-ticket voting option — but not until September 2020.
“In the next election, every candidate will win or lose based on their record and the platform they put forward to voters,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick assured supporters in a post-election message. “This will give us better leaders and better government.”
Still, Texas Democrats see a golden opportunity on the horizon. There will be a galvanizing Republican at the top of the ticket nationally, the higher turnout that comes with a presidential election and an anticipated recruitment boon after the unexpected success that so many candidates experienced this time. Maybe, just maybe, they think, the state could be up for grabs in the White House race: Donald Trump only won it by 9 points in 2016, the narrowest margin in two decades, then O’Rourke finished just 2.6 points behind Cruz. Maybe a Texan will be on the Democratic ticket, too.
Texas hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The last time both parties made a serious play for the state’s electoral votes was in 1996, when President Bill Clinton campaigned here for his re-election ahead of Election Day. Bob Dole won the state by 4.9 percentage points.
The possibility of a serious role for Texas in the 2020 presidential contest is already being discussed in Washington. During a post-election briefing with reporters in the nation’s capital, a top Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, presented a slideshow that suggested up to 15 states could be in play in 2020, with the states sorted into three categories: “Core,” “Expansion” and “Watch.” Texas was listed under “Watch.”
Much of the immediate speculation about 2020 in Texas has centered on O’Rourke, who was being discussed as a potential presidential candidate even before he reached the finish line in the Senate race. While running against Cruz, he denied interest in a White House bid. Since then, he has not said what he plans to do next beyond spending more time with his family and then starting to think about what he learned from his Senate campaign. But that has not stopped the 2020 drumbeat surrounding him. A poll released last week pegged him as Democratic voters’ No. 3 pick among possible contenders, and a cryptic blog post Thursday about running — a morning jog, that is — stirred speculation anew.
If O’Rourke runs for president, he would have to contend with another Texan who has been preparing for a likely White House bid for nearly two years: Julían Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor. People close to Castro have been saying an O’Rourke run would not change his plans, a point Castro himself made Friday to the Associated Press. Castro, who said last month he is “likely” to make a White House bid, intends to make an announcement about his plans in early 2019.
Instead of running for president in 2020, some Texas Democrats would like O’Rourke to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be at the top of the ballot in two years. But privately, O’Rourke has not expressed interest in challenging Cornyn, according to his inner circle.
Among O’Rourke’s biggest fans, the prospect of a presidential run appears far more appealing.
“I think there need to be good challengers in 2020 for the Senate seat, but I also really feel that the country needs a moral leader right now in the Oval Office — that office has been dragged to such horrible depths and with that our county has been dragged to such horrible depths — that we need someone to uplift, unify and inspire, and I know for certain Beto can do that,” said Veronica Escobar, who is replacing O’Rourke in the U.S. House and said she has not talked with him since Nov. 6 about his future plans.
To put it mildly, Cornyn would be a much different opponent for O’Rourke, and not just because the state’s senior senator is not as polarizing a figure as Cruz is. During his 2018 campaign, O’Rourke regularly talked up his work with Cornyn in Congress and pointed to him as the kind of Republican he could collaborate with if elected to the upper chamber.
Nonetheless, Democrats are already targeting Cornyn. Hinojosa said it was no secret that the state party struggled to recruit some statewide candidates in 2018, but he expects that the strides the party made on Nov. 6 will spur previously reluctant Democrats to step up in 2020, with the race to unseat Cornyn serving as the prime beneficiary. Hinojosa guaranteed the party will field a “strong candidate” against Cornyn, noting it is “already getting phone calls from some major players.”
O’Rourke “established a baseline that’s far higher, and now we build on it,” the national Democratic Party chairman, Tom Perez, said during a post-election discussion with reporters in Washington, D.C. “If the question is, ‘Are we going to compete in the Texas Senate race in 2020?’, the answer is, ‘Hell yeah.'”
A Cornyn spokesman referred to comments the senator made two days after the midterm elections in which he said he intends “to be ready and do my homework” for 2020.
O’Rourke is not the only statewide candidate from Nov. 6 who is already coming up in 2020 conversations. Kim Olson, the fiery Democrat who finished five points behind Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, has been punctuating her post-election social media posts with the hashtag “#kim2020,” and a spokeswoman for Olson said she is “currently exploring all opportunities to determine the best way to continue serving Texas and Texans.”
At the congressional level, the next cycle is also already looming large.
Democrats picked up two seats on Nov. 6, dislodging Republican U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas. But they also came surprisingly close in several districts that were once considered far out of reach, and the Democratic nominees in those races emerged as local rock stars who are already being encouraged to try again in 2020. That is even before any retirement announcements from GOP incumbents who may not be game for another competitive race in 2020.
Among the rising stars are Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former diplomat who came within five points of taking out U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. In a message to supporters the weekend after the election, Kulkarni acknowledged that the 2020 discussion was already taking shape, saying that many people have asked him to run again for the seat but he is “not ready to commit to that yet.”
Then there is MJ Hegar, the former military pilot who gained a national fanbase taking on U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and finished just 3 points behind him. In a post-election interview, she noted that even her most loyal supporters told her from the start that it would be a “two-cycle race” to win the seat.
“I’ve been approached by a lot of different people to run for a variety of different offices … and I’m still considering the best way to serve my community,” Hegar said. Running for the congressional seat again, she added, is “one of the options I’m considering.”
Farther down the ballot, Democrats are already setting their sights on capturing the state House majority in 2020 — a huge prize ahead of the next redistricting round. They made significant progress on Nov. 6, flipping a dozen seats and growing their ranks from 55 members to 67. That means Democrats are entering the 2020 cycle nine seats removed from the majority — well within reach, according to Democrats inside and outside Texas.
“Democrats are now in striking distance of flipping the Texas Legislature in 2020, with the potential to upend the entire national redistricting process,” said Ben Wexler-Waite, a spokesman for a super PAC, Forward Majority, that poured $2.2 million into 32 Texas House races in their closing days.
The contours of the state House battlefield for Democrats in 2020 are already coming into focus. Beyond the 12 seats they picked up, there were several more where the Democratic nominee came within just a few points — or even closer. Adam Milasincic, who lost by just 47 votes to state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, is already promising an “announcement about 2020” in the coming months.
In the state Senate, the path to the majority for Democrats appears for now to be more challenging. But they have at least one clear target already: state Sen. Pete Flores, the Pleasanton Republican who upset Democrat Pete Gallego in the September special election for Senate District 19.
Below are some of the sights and sounds of Tuesday night’s largest parties, thanks to Herald Post staff members Andra Litton, Steven Cottingham and Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta. (Also special shoutout to Duke Keith for letting us embed the special he did for 550 KTSA below the gallery)
Got to do some radio news tonight for the Alamo City. Thanks to KTSA-AM and News Director Dennis Foley for allowing me to part of their election night coverage from Beto O'Rourke's rally at Southwest University Park.The game has changed a bit since I started at KTAM-KORA in beautiful Bryan-College Station back in the late 1980's – social media means video. Here's a short piece I did before they opened the park.550 KTSA Congressman Beto O'Rourke
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke Tuesday evening in what appeared likely to be one of the closest U.S Senate races in Texas in decades.
With more than 60 percent of precincts reporting in Texas, Cruz had a four-point lead over O’Rourke.
While Cruz had a strong showing across most of rural Texas, O’Rourke narrowed the margin by winning urban counties and coming within striking distance in some Texas suburbs.
Delivering his victory speech at about 10 p.m., Cruz cast the race in dramatic terms, saying it was not about either candidate but a “battle of ideas” and a “contest for who we are and what we believe in.”
“This was an election about hope and about the future of Texas,” Cruz said, “and the people of Texas rendered a verdict that we want a future with more jobs and more security and more freedom.”
Cruz thanked O’Rourke, saying he “poured his heart” into the campaign and “worked tirelessly,” making sacrifices as a father. Acknowledging that “millions across this state were inspired by his campaign,” Cruz appealed to O’Rourke’s supporters, saying he wanted to represent them too.
Cruz did not hold back about the challenge he said he faced, though.
“We saw an assault that was unprecedented,” Cruz said. “We saw a $100 million race with Hollywood coming in against the state, with the national media coming in against the state. But all the money in the world was no match for the good people of Texas and the hard work.”
Cruz’s speech followed a three-hour roller-coaster for those watching results trickle in, as Cruz and O’Rourke repeatedly traded narrow leads.
At about 9:25 p.m., Cruz’s supporters at his Election Night party in a Houston hotel broke out in cheers and a chant of “Cruuuz!” as Fox News called the race for him. “We want Ted!” supporters shouted as they moved closer to the stage, hoping to hear from the victor.
It was a dramatic shift from shortly before 9 p.m., when Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, took the stage to address concerned supporters looking at returns that showed O’Rourke in reach of a historic upset. Roe told them “everything’s good” and said the campaign expected Cruz’s lead to grow once the results in more rural counties came in.
“Anybody that’s really clenched — you can release a little bit — it’s OK,” Roe said, suggesting he nonetheless expected to be “in for a little bit of a night.”
The mood at the O’Rourke election night party in El Paso was upbeat well into the evening. But the mood quickly soured once it became clear that most news outlets had called the race in favor of Cruz.
“I’m very surprised. I’m very disappointed,” said 80-year-old Olivia Lara, an O’Rourke supporter who said she votes in every election. “He worked so hard. It’s very sad for El Paso.”
Cruz supporters acknowledged being spooked as the first early vote results came in, giving O’Rourke a lead.
“At first I was a little worried, but we knew that after the big cities were done, that the rural counties would pull us in,” said Mike Diaz, a 39-year-old engineer from Cypress.
As for the closer-than-usual margin of victory for a statewide Texas Republican, Diaz and other Cruz backers chalked it up to financial firepower that O’Rourke brought to the race.
“It was a good, hard-fought battle, but they dumped so much money and so much advertising — they made it close,” Diaz said.
The race between Cruz and O’Rourke emerged in recent months as the hottest in the country during this midterm election season, as O’Rourke, a relatively unknown congressman just two years ago, cobbled together the most competitive statewide campaign by a Texas Democrat in over a decade. As Election Day drew closer and polls suggested a tightening race, Democratic hopes abounded that O’Rourke was cracking the code: energizing long-beleaguered Texas Democrats, expanding the electorate and putting himself in position to be the first of them to win statewide office in over two decades.
After making little secret of his intentions for months, O’Rourke entered the race on the last day of March 2017, announcing his campaign alongside his wife in El Paso. He laid down some early markers, promising to run a positive campaign, not accept PAC money and eschew pollsters and consultants.
For a period, the prospect of a competitive primary loomed as U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio considered a run as well. But about a month after O’Rourke launched his bid, Castro passed on a run, giving O’Rourke a relatively clear shot at the nomination.
O’Rourke immediately got to work on an ambitious goal: visiting all 254 counties of Texas. That push defined much of the first half of his campaign as he racked up thousands of miles holding town halls throughout the state, building the case that he would be the senator who would show up for all of Texas.
Heading into the March 6 primary, there was little concern O’Rourke would dominate in his first statewide test. But he received an underwhelming 62 percent of the vote, with most of the rest going to two unknown candidates. He also lost a number of heavily Hispanic counties in South Texas, auguring concerns about his ability to turn out the demographic long believed to be key to a Democratic revival in the state.
The night of the primary was notable for another reason: Cruz abruptly went on the offensive against O’Rourke after months of largely ignoring him. In a conference call shortly before polls closed, Cruz unloaded on O’Rourke as too liberal for Texas, and in an ad released later that night, mocked him for using the nickname “Beto” when his legal name is Robert Francis. (“Beto” is a Spanish nickname that the congressman has gone by since his youth.)
The following month, Cruz formally launched his re-election bid with a focus on extolling Lone Star State exceptionalism — especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It was an ostensibly unifying message that complemented Cruz’s new campaign slogan — “Tough as Texas” — and punctuated a period of home-state re-engagement following his unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.
O’Rourke pressed forward with his 254-county tour. He completed it on June 9 in Gainesville, the seat of Cooke County, and did not let up afterward, continuing to keep an aggressive travel schedule that attracted growing national spotlight. It only grew brighter by mid-August, when O’Rourke’s remarks at a town hall defending NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem went viral.
By late summer, the mood of the race started to change. Things were tightening, according to surveys, and national Republicans began to develop some concern that it was getting too close for comfort.
The alarm was not helped by O’Rourke’s massive fundraising, which poured in online. He was outraising Cruz period after period, and he posted an astonishing $38 million in the third quarter of 2018 — a new record for the biggest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race.
The GOP calvary began to mobilize. The Club for Growth, a conservative group that was critical to Cruz’s 2012 election, announced it would spend seven figures to help fend off O’Rourke, and a parade of high-profile surrogates began to form.
None, of course, was more high-profile than President Donald Trump, who Cruz bitterly battled in the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. At the end of August, the president took to Twitter to announce he would headline a rally for Cruz in October — and he wanted to do it in the “biggest stadium” he could find in Texas. The two ended up reuniting on the first day of early voting — Oct. 22 — at the Toyota Center in Houston, where the president made clear they had buried the hatchet from 2016 and happily attacked O’Rourke as a “stone-cold phony.”
The fall also saw two debates between Cruz and O’Rourke, the product of grueling, months-long negotiations between the two sides. Meeting first in Dallas, O’Rourke displayed a more aggressive approach to Cruz, but it still left some supporters unsatisfied, especially as O’Rourke was getting buried by attack ads on TV while running exclusively positive spots. So in the second debate, held in San Antonio, O’Rourke swung harder at Cruz — to the point of adopting Trump’s old nickname for the senator: “Lyin’ Ted.”
Strategically, it was a pivotal moment for O’Rourke, and it was followed the next morning by the launch of three TV ads criticizing Cruz, a test of O’Rourke’s longtime vow to take the high road. Around the time, Cruz was riding high off the GOP enthusiasm generated by anger over Brett Kavanuagh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he gleefully portrayed O’Rourke’s new tack as the hallmark of a flailing candidate.
But Cruz’s high was not forever. Polls suggested his lead began to narrow again during early voting, which itself was a key moment. Turnout was comparable to that of a presidential election year, with nearly 5 million Texans voting early in the 30 Texas counties where most registered voters in the state live.
Earlier at O’Rourke’s election night party, some were already preparing for Cruz’s eventual victory, predicting that O’Rourke’s bid will likely be viewed as having paved the way for a future Democrat to win statewide.
“Even if he doesn’t get over the finish line, he’s laid a foundation we can build upon,” said Julián Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor.
At one point later in the evening, a cover band played “Don’t Stop Believin’.”