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Home | Tag Archives: beto o’rourke

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Beto O’Rourke’s flock remains loyal while his party debates whether to move on

In 2018, Jacqueline Westman fell in love with her first political candidate.

It was Beto O’Rourke, then a no-name congressman mounting a long-shot bid for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz. Westman, who lives in California, was so inspired by his message — “He’s the type of person who could not only help Texas, but our country,” she said — that she hosted long-distance phone banks for him and traveled to El Paso the weekend before the election to knock on doors for his campaign.

O’Rourke lost, but Westman stuck around. When the 47-year-old ex-congressman launched a presidential bid, Westman joined a 50-plus person team of loyalists known as Beto Road Warriors, who paid out of pocket to follow him across the country to campaign on his behalf. Westman visited seven states.

“It’s like Willie Nelson said, ‘Anything he wants to do, I’m with Beto,’” said Westman, a 32-year-old fashion designer.

No Texas politician has a fiercely loyal following quite like O’Rourke’s. His fans often compare him to Barack Obama circa 2008: a handsome, hopeful young Democrat with a precocious political rise and an optimistic message. In O’Rourke, who got within 3 percentage points of beating Cruz in 2018, they see something of a messiah who could usher in a new, blue era for Texas.

But his detractors — and there are many, even within the Texas Democratic Party — say his star has fallen. He and his supporters have become something of a bogeyman; his given name, Robert Francis, is commonly invoked by Republican candidates or strategists seeking to paint Democrats as phony or out of touch.

The passion on both sides was on display during a special election last month for a state House seat in Fort Bend County. O’Rourke, declaring his top 2020 priority is helping Democrats flip the Texas House, spent days in the district and encouraged his army of supporters to join the fight. O’Rourke’s new political group, Powered by People, bragged before the election about bringing 1,100 volunteers from 19 states to help support the Democrat in the race, Eliz Markowitz.

But Markowitz was annihilated. Her Republican challenger beat her by 16 percentage points, though O’Rourke lost by just more than 3 points in the district in 2018. Republicans were giddy, bragging afterward that their internal polling in the district found O’Rourke largely unpopular and suggesting that he might have hurt Markowitz more than he helped.

“Beto doesn’t seem to get it. He has lost at every level — Ted Cruz, the race for President, and now, Texas House District 28,” read a Jan. 31 email from Texas GOP 2020 Victory.

The state House loss left some Democratic operatives also scratching their heads about O’Rourke’s influence. According to The Dallas Morning News, the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee advised its candidates after the special election not to speak to a reporter asking whether they would accept O’Rourke’s help with their campaigns.

First: Jacqueline Westman and Beto O’Rourke share a hug at the Polk County Steak Fry in Iowa. Last: Supporters attended a rally for O’Rourke in Austin last March when he was running for president. First: Brett Lake for BOA campaign. Last: Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune.

“Ironically enough, Beto O’Rourke’s national platform has turned him into the Ted Cruz of the Democratic Party — meaning his profile is high enough and his positions extreme enough that his main remaining political benefit is to motivate and activate his opponents,” said Ted Delisi, the top strategist for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s Senate race in 2002.

But O’Rourke’s diehard supporters remain undeterred.

For Thomas Long, a 56-year-old glass-blower and fellow road warrior who moved from Florida to Texas with his wife in part to work on O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, O’Rourke symbolizes “the heart of the Democratic Party.”

“He speaks the truth on issues, and the reason he’s able to do that in the way that he does is because he goes and talks to a number of people,” Long said. “His positions on issues are a reflection of the population and a reflection of moral center.”

Some of Long’s favorite messages from O’Rourke’s presidential campaign — that assault weapons should be banned and confiscated by the government and that religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status if they oppose gay marriage — are the same ones Republicans have used to portray him as out of touch with Texans.

“I didn’t find them to be controversial,” Long said. “I found them to be necessary, and maybe not extreme enough.”

For Democrats, a big turnout from O’Rourke’s energized loyalists could be a lifeline in a tight election. And the party is looking to build on a grassroots organizing strategy the El Paso congressman popularized in 2018: publicized visits to the state’s 254 counties, persuading parts of the electorate who typically don’t turn out the polls and an organic outreach effort by young voters.

In addition to hoping to compete in the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate races, Texas Democrats are eyeing several suburban state House and congressional districts they think are within their grasp. O’Rourke is credited with making those districts competitive: His Democratic ticket won seats or came within single digits in 22 Republican-held districts in 2018, and he came the closest a Democrat has to winning statewide in a generation.

Jacqueline Westman hugs Beto O’Rourke.
Winston O’Neal for CCR Press

“Let’s give him his due: There is only one reason why anyone considers the Democrats to be on the rise in Texas, and that’s because of Beto,” said Harold Cook, a Democratic political analyst. “That’s the good news.”

“The bad news, potentially,” Cook said, “is that he took some positions running for president which I would imagine are way out of line with Texas voters, especially general election voters.”

O’Rourke, for his part, told the Morning News that if his “presence is unhelpful, I’ll stay as far away as I can.” But he seems aware of the unwavering allegiance among his flock and unperturbed by GOPers seeking to silence him.

“This is a fiercely loyal family, and everyone’s looking out for one another,” he told a reporter last month while block walking for Markowitz.

But as O’Rourke’s profile rose, a backlash began to emerge, too. After his Senate campaign exceeded expectations and drew national attention, O’Rourke’s followers essentially drafted him to run for president. Some pundits, however, argued that the state needed O’Rourke — there was scattered speculation he’d challenge Cornyn — more than the nation did.

Then during his White House bid, O’Rourke aligned with the most progressive wing of the party, touting policy decisions that might’ve been helpful in a national Democratic primary but raised worries they could hurt him in Texas.

“I don’t know how you don’t look back over the past few months and say Beto’s standing, Beto’s star power and ability to potentially run again himself, was enhanced by his run for national office,” Delisi said.

The question facing Democrats: Can the party capitalize on the energy he brings out of his supporters while minimizing the counter-energy he seems to provoke from the right?

“There’s no way anyone else would put their political future on the line like Beto,” said Brenda Jurgens, a former Republican from Aledo who switched parties because of O’Rourke. Jurgens, who already had “one foot out of the Republican party after Trump,” drove two hours to see O’Rourke speak at a Taco Tuesday event in a small Republican town at the height of his U.S. Senate run and has never looked back.

“Who else do you know in Texas who can mobilize people in 10 days and have people knock 40,000 doors?” she questioned.

In interviews, nearly a dozen O’Rourke loyalists made clear that they had a blind trust in the former congressman, and whether his next goal entails helping Democrats down ballot or even running for office again himself — some speculated a gubernatorial bid in 2022 — they would be right beside him.

“Betomania,” his supporters say, is a result of an amalgamation of factors, namely that he’s a uniquely charismatic candidate compared with the rest of the state Democratic Party, which has long lacked star power.

“He brought me so much hope and inspiration, as cliche as that sounds,” said Rose Dunshea, a 21-year-old from Rockwall. “His campaign raised my standards so high, and now that he’s out of the [presidential] race, no one’s been able to live up to him.

“Nobody seemed irrelevant to him or like they weren’t worth his time, and that just speaks volumes about him as a person,” said Dunshea, who drove from Dallas to Fort Bend County twice to campaign for Markowitz. She estimated she knocked on upwards of 500 doors.

After O’Rourke’s presidential bid ended, many of his followers said they embraced one of two main paths: switching their support to another presidential candidate or following O’Rourke to the state House.

Until the primaries are over, “I don’t know if I’m willing to phone bank for 30 hours a week for anyone else,” said Shireen Kahlon of Austin, who has helped a slate of local and congressional Democrats. “There’s a few candidates I like, but I’m not excited about any specific candidate” now that O’Rourke isn’t running for president. Kahlon says she’s never bought various pieces of political swag for a single political candidate, but she “bought three signs and two bumper stickers” after she heard O’Rourke speak for the first time during his U.S. Senate bid.

Westman and Long went to Joe Biden. The two campaigned for him in Iowa, where results have him in fourth place.

Now back in California, Westman, who is living out of her suitcase until heading to Nevada to campaign for Biden, said she was “damn proud” of the work she did. She said her excitement toward politics started with “a spark from Beto,” and she’s now trying to “light fires wherever I go.”

“Beto is a fearless, selfless leader and has shined a light on all. Whatever and wherever he goes or chooses to do, he’ll have a fighting force of driven warriors with him forever,” Westman said.

In fact, she’s gone so far as to buy a bumper sticker and received a button — she says she carries it with her every day — pledging her allegiance to his future political endeavors. The paraphernalia — which resembles the distinctive black-and-white signs for O’Rourke that popped up in lawns for most of 2018 — rearranges the letters of O’Rourke’s nickname.

“TO-BE CONTINUED,” it reads.

Author: ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 focus: flipping the Texas House

KATY — Beto O’Rourke said Tuesday his biggest political focus next year in Texas will be flipping the state House, offering the most detail yet on his 2020 plans since ending his presidential campaign last month.

“Everything flows up from that,” said O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman and 2018 U.S. Senate nominee. “So not only could Democrats gain control of the House and make progress on stormwater infrastructure, health care, gun violence, climate and education, but that will incidentally help the federal races — from U.S. Congress to U.S. Senate — and I also think it’s also going to lay the groundwork for whoever the presidential nominee is.”

O’Rourke pointed to his near-miss 2018 loss, when he said the work that he and state House candidates were doing “all reinforced one another and complemented the efforts and produced historic turnout, and we need something like that this time.”

O’Rourke spoke with reporters here from The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle while in town to campaign with Eliz Markowitz, the Democratic candidate in a special election runoff next month for a Texas House seat that Democrats are trying to flip. He said it was his first time back on the campaign trail since returning to El Paso after dropping out of the presidential race on Nov. 1.

O’Rourke has remained politically active in recent weeks, re-emerging in Markowitz’s race — he first stumped with her in September — and wading into a few other down-ballot races, including picking sides in two intraparty contests. He backed Lorraine Birabil over fellow Democrat James Armstrong in the special election runoff next month to replace ex-state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas. And he quickly endorsed Sima Ladjevardian, a former campaign adviser, after she made an 11th-hour entry last week into the primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston.

O’Rourke told reporters he is open to endorsing in additional competitive primaries but is “certainly going to get behind the nominee in these races once they’re settled in March.” He said he was not worried about alienating members of his own party “because we won’t be attacking other Democrats” in contested primaries.

One primary that O’Rourke continues to say he will not get involved in is the one for U.S. Senate, which has drawn a dozen candidates and saw a major development Monday when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed one of them, MJ Hegar. O’Rourke said Tuesday he was excited about the options and looking forward to hearing more from them, noting many voters have yet to tune in, but reiterated he did not plan to intervene in the nominating contest.

“I’m still making up my mind in terms of who I would vote for, much less endorse or support, but [I’m] not planning to get involved before the primary’s decided,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke acknowledged that supporters asked him to run again for U.S. Senate after he ended his White House bid, with the backers emphasizing the impact he could have up and down the ballot. But he said he was “just convinced that out of that extraordinary field we have, someone’s gonna emerge and inspire us and be an incredibly formidable opponent towards John Cornyn and help these down-ballot and other races.”

Markowitz, a Katy educator, is in a Jan. 28 runoff against Republican Gary Gates, a self-funding businessman, for the seat that was vacated earlier this year by former state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond. If Democrats take the seat, they could effectively pull within eight seats of capturing the House majority next year.

Markowitz got 39% of the vote in the November special election to 28% for Gates, who had to compete with five other Republicans. Markowitz expressed optimism Tuesday that she could overcome the vote breakdown in the first round — 39% Democratic, 61% Republican — to prevail in the runoff.

“I think that any time you have seven candidates vying off for a single race, it’s going to lead to different factions of friends and family coming out to vote for a single person, not necessarily the most representative based on party or affiliation, and so by having it just be me versus Gates in this runoff, we’ll be able to consolidate a lot of our voters in the Democratic base,” she said. “We’re also expanding our universe to make sure that we reach more Democratic-leaning individuals who we didn’t touch the first time around and make sure that they actually turn out to the polls.”

After speaking with reporters, O’Rourke and Markowitz joined area state Reps. Jon Rosenthal and Ron Reynolds for an anti-gun violence roundtable hosted by Moms Demand Action of Greater Houston. The former presidential candidate introduced himself as “Beto O’Rourke, volunteer for the Eliz Markowitz campaign.”

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Beto O’Rourke’s out, but he still casts a shadow on the 2020 Texas elections

Ignore Beto O’Rourke’s misbegotten presidential campaign for a moment, and give the El Paso Democrat his due: He is the reason Texas Democrats are hopeful and Texas Republicans are worried.

Don’t take this as any kind of endorsement, either — it’s just recognition of the jolt his surprising finish in the 2018 U.S. Senate election had on the Texas GOP’s hold on state politics.

You know the drill: No Democratic statewide wins since 1994, Republican control of both houses of the Legislature since 2003, increasing wins in many county offices and so on. In 2018, the Democrats won a couple of seats in Congress that the Republicans never expected to lose. One was John Culberson’s Houston loss to Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. The other, where the winner was Colin Allred, offered up a sign of the kind of election it was. Allred flushed Pete Sessions, who held the district for 22 years, right out of Dallas. This year, he has declared his candidacy for a district that runs from Waco to Bryan — well south of his old stomping grounds.

The Democrats wrested a dozen seats from the Republicans in the Texas House in 2018, too, when most of the smart kids were saying they might win 5 or 6. You can credit that to hard work, good candidates, enthusiastic like and dislike for President Donald Trump, high voter turnout or whatever else you can think of. You’ll be right, in part.

But you won’t be right if you leave out the race at the top of the 2018 ballot, and what it meant in the statewide races below it.

Texans started their 2018 general election voting with that top race, where U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was trying to win his first reelection, just two years after flaming out at the end of the 2016 Republican primary against Trump. Cruz ran a good presidential race. He made it to the last lap. But he irritated Republicans with his initial “principled” refusal to support the nominee, and then with his decision to turn around and support him. Republicans who like him and Republicans who don’t found that irksome at the time.

In 2018, Cruz also had all those Democrats to contend with — voters who knew less about him in his first 2012 race for U.S. Senate against former state Rep. Paul Sadler than they knew about the national and divisive conservative who was seeking a second term in 2016.

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

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With financial challenges and frustrating polls, Beto O’Rourke’s campaign reaches an abrupt end

DES MOINES — Hours before Beto O’Rourke quit the presidential race Friday evening, his supporters were taking part in the boisterous “sign wars” here outside the Wells Fargo Arena ahead of the season’s biggest Democratic gathering.

In New Hampshire, his campaign was building out an upcoming trip, announcing he would participate in the famed “Politics and Eggs” speaking series on Nov. 8.

And in El Paso, staffers were readying a policy on disability issues to coincide with a forum on the topic Saturday in Cedar Rapids.

In many ways, it was business as usual for the campaign — until it wasn’t. His exit Friday evening was a relatively abrupt conclusion to a campaign that began with much promise and fell from grace but found new purpose after the El Paso shooting in August and appeared — at least from the outside — to be pressing forward amid mounting challenges.

Breaking the news to supporters on the Des Moines waterfront, O’Rourke hinted at just how swift the decision had been. Lamenting his wife’s absence, he called it “a decision we made so recently and so reluctantly she can’t be here in person.”

O’Rourke decided to drop out just in the last couple days, according to campaign sources, and senior staff did not begin learning about the decision until Thursday. More senior staff learned Friday, and late in the afternoon, just a few hours before his first event of the weekend in Iowa, he held an all-staff call to share his decision.

On the call, O’Rourke discussed the tough financial choices he was facing if he were to continue running, the sources said. He also told staff he would not run for U.S. Senate next year in Texas — something he has previously denied interest in but a possibility that was bound to generate more speculation with him no longer running for president.

O’Rourke’s campaign was facing a number of pressures, perhaps none more serious than money. While he raised more in the third quarter than he did in the second, both saw the campaign spending at an alarming rate, burning through significantly more money than it took in. In the third quarter, the campaign spent $1.43 for every $1 it raised, with payroll and related costs taking up the bulk of expenses.

Author: PATRICK SVITEKThe Texas Tribune

Key goal for Texans Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke in Tuesday’s debate: Make the next one

The two Democratic presidential candidates from Texas are set to appear Tuesday evening in what threatens to be their last debate, a high-stakes opportunity to propel their campaigns out of the lower tier and prove they deserve their spots onstage.

Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke are among 12 candidates who will take the stage at 7 p.m. at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. Hosted by CNN and The New York Times, it is the fourth debate of the primary, and the last one before qualification requirements go up again, potentially leaving the Texans on the sidelines.

In the short term, though, both Texans are being closely watched for their potential collisions with other candidates Tuesday evening. O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman, is heading into the debate on the heels of his latest clash with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, while Castro’s reputation precedes him after he stood out in the first three debates for his unflinching interrogations of some rivals.

“Some folks have thought that I’ve been somewhat assertive on the debate stage,” Castro said late last month at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “I can tell you that whoever’s on the debate stage [in the general election] … Donald Trump is not gonna be nice.”

Still, the debates have proven to be somewhat frustrating experiences for the Texans. Both have had standout moments and enjoyed some fundraising success afterward. But neither has received a discernible boost in the polls as a result.

The latest debate falls on the last day for candidates to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission. Four days ago, O’Rourke announced he raised $4.5 million over the period, while Castro has not released his numbers yet but offered other fundraising details over the weekend that indicated he took in at least $3.2 million.

Both hauls are improvements over the Texans’ second-quarter fundraising but still far behind many of their competitors, especially those that will share the stage with them Tuesday.

The 12-candidate lineup is the biggest for a single night yet, and opportunities abound for conflict. For O’Rourke, that may mean a direct confrontation with Buttigieg, who he has traded barbs with in a series of media appearances and tweets over recent weeks.

The two tangled anew Monday over O’Rourke’s crusade for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. Buttigieg has suggested the idea plays into Republicans’ hands, and O’Rourke has countered that Buttigieg is being too cautious and calculating.

“I get it,” Buttigieg said in a Snapchat interview published Monday morning. “He needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant, but this is about a difference on policy.”

O’Rourke shot back on Twitter: “[Buttigieg] can say whatever he wants, but guns kill 40,000 people each year. Those people deserve action. I’ll be fighting for them.”

O’Rourke has also faced scrutiny in recent days for saying that religious institutions that oppose gay marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. His campaign later walked back the position, saying O’Rourke was referring to institutions that discriminate, but that did not stop at least two rivals, Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, from plainly expressing their disagreement, not to mention an avalanche of GOP criticism.

Castro has not been at the center of as much controversy in recent days, though his aggressive debate style is well known at this point. During the last debate, his questioning of Joe Biden’s memory hit on a sensitive subject — the former vice president’s mental acuity — that was one of the more dramatic storylines to come out of the event.

Beyond the Ohio debate, though, both Texans are staring down the possibility that they do not qualify for the next one, which is scheduled for Nov. 20 in Georgia. Both candidates have the 165,000 donors required for that debate, according to their campaigns, but neither is close to satisfying the most realistic polling requirement for them: 3% in four national or early voting state polls. Castro has none of the qualifying surveys, while O’Rourke has one.

They have until Nov. 13 to hit the threshold, though neither has been on a promising trajectory lately.

Faced with the November cutoff, Castro has taken a somewhat alarmist approach, sending out a fundraising email late last month warning it would be the “end of my campaign” if he did not qualify for the November debate. Meanwhile, a confident O’Rourke and his campaign have sought to reassure backers not to sweat the November cutoff.

“There is a lot of things to be worried about in the world, and qualifying for the debates is not something that you need to carry on your shoulders,” O’Rourke campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillion said in a recent weekly update for supporters, responding to someone asking how worried they should be about making it on the November debate stage. “Don’t worry — we got this one.”

Failure to qualify for the November debate could force a fresh round of speculation about the political futures of Castro and O’Rourke. The filing deadline for the Texas primary is just a few weeks later — Dec. 9 — and while both Texans have insisted they will not return home to run for U.S. Senate, the timeline could create a new urgency among their supporters.

A day before the debate, Castro projected the image of a candidate not going anywhere, unveiling 58 endorsements, including at least 14 from Texas. One of them, former El Paso state Rep. Norma Chávez, gave a potential preview of the Ohio debate in explaining her support for Castro.

“Julián is not a lightweight,” she told Politico. “He can deliver a power punch and take one.”

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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Donald Trump calls Beto O’Rourke “dummy” over assault-weapon buyback proposal

President Donald Trump added Beto O’Rourke to his list of nicknamed politicians, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate as “Dummy Beto” in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

O’Rourke first called for mandatory buybacks of assault weapons last month following the deadly shooting in his hometown of El Paso. But the proposal got its widest audience yet Thursday at the latest primary debate in Houston, where O’Rourke vowed that “hell, yes,” he wants to take away people’s AR-15s and AK-47s.

Trump’s tweet echoed an argument that U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, made Tuesday. He told reporters that O’Rourke has “thrown gasoline” on the gun debate in Congress with his mandatory buyback crusade.

It is not the first time Trump has lashed out at O’Rourke on Twitter in recent weeks. On the eve of Trump’s trip to El Paso after the anti-immigrant massacre — which O’Rourke attributed to Trump’s rhetoric — the president tweeted that O’Rourke “should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”

O’Rourke responded to the president’s tweet an hour and a half later, saying he will buy back “every single assault weapon.”

Read related Tribune coverage


Analysis: Texas presidential candidates and the strength of geography

The Texas politicians in the race for president — that’s a way of skipping around Marianne Williamson for a minute — are rebooting.

Beto O’Rourke, who owes his prominence to an unconventional U.S. Senate race last year, is flipping his by-the-book campaign for president into something more noticeable, something more like the race against Ted Cruz that attracted all the attention in the first place.

Julián Castro, one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars for the last several years, is struggling to win attention among the pack of candidates. He’s fighting to clear the obstacles designed to winnow the field of candidates who’ll appear in next month’s debates in Texas, attacking President Donald Trump in a direct political ad: “As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists.”

The candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump, of course. They’re also seeking to pull Texas voters into the fold by talking about national issues that have special resonance in a state with roughly as many Hispanic residents as Anglos, that shares a long border with Mexico and that is essential to any national Republican ticket.

Part of the Democratic candidates’ argument is that putting a Texan on the ticket could put Texas in play in 2020. And that if Texas is in play, the Republican Party’s presidential candidate will be in real trouble.

It’s not all about those two, or about Williamson, who’s from Texas but has spent her adulthood mostly outside of politics and mostly outside of the state. But their presence and last year’s unexpected shift to the left in Texas’ 2018 results highlights Democratic hopes and Republican concerns going into next year’s election.

Trump’s campaign has focused on Texas, spending more on its Facebook ads here than in another state this summer. He spent more in the state than Castro and O’Rourke combined during the first half of the year, on ads with messages like this: “We have an INVASION! So we are BUILDING THE WALL to STOP IT. Dems will sue us. But we want a SAFE COUNTRY! It’s CRITICAL that we STOP THE INVASION.”

If Texas is the cornerstone for a Republican win nationally, Trump wants to keep Republican voters stirred up — not to mention perking up donors in an important money state. His campaign is also aware that Trump didn’t do as well as most of the Republicans running statewide in Texas in 2016, winning his race by 9 percentage points while the Republican average was 14.1 percentage points.

But Castro and O’Rourke are running far behind the leaders seeking the Democratic nomination. O’Rourke has the poll and donor numbers to meet the threshold for the September debates in Houston, with more than 130,000 donors and support from at least 2% of the respondents in at least four qualifying polls.

Castro has the donors, but he’s one poll short of the target, battling for political oxygen like someone stuck under the ice in a frozen lake. He’s running those attention-getting ads, confronting Trump after the racially motivated mass shootingin El Paso for the things the president said before and after that incident. “Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you. Because they look like me. They look like my family. Words have consequences. ¡Ya basta!”

O’Rourke’s remodeling has its roots in recent headlines. His hometown was the site of that shooting earlier this month. It’s the locus of many of the debates about federal immigration and immigration enforcement policy — a spot chosen by Trump for one of his openly nativist political rallies earlier in the year.

Think of it this way: The El Paso Democrat has a singular reason for remaking his campaign — that being that what he was doing wasn’t working, and had turned the standard stories about him into critiques of what he was doing wrong and pre-death autopsies of how a seemingly promising campaign had vaporized.

And he had policy issues that matched his passions and his geography and that — this is critical — put him in direct opposition to the incumbent he and all those other Democrats hope to unseat. That’s true, as well, for Castro, the Hispanic former mayor of San Antonio and former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, trying to break out as a first-time candidate for any office outside of Bexar County. He’s pursuing issues central to his heritage, his home and the weaknesses of the incumbent.

Both have method, motive, opportunity — and reboots rooted in Texas.

Author: ROSS RAMSEYThe Texas Tribune

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.


Ahead of Donald Trump’s visit to El Paso where 22 are dead, the president tells Beto O’Rourke to be “quiet”

President Donald Trump lashed out at Beto O’Rourke late Tuesday night, saying the Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman from El Paso should “be quiet” about the deadly shooting in his hometown.

The Twitter missive came hours before Trump was set to visit the city, which is reeling from the massacre Saturday at a Walmart that left 22 people dead and more than two dozen wounded. Along with other El Paso Democrats, O’Rourke has linked the shooting to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and said the president should not visit.

The accused gunman, from Allen outside of Dallas, allegedly left a racist manifesto that described the attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Federal officials have catalogued the massacre as domestic terrorism.

“Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O’Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!” Trump tweeted.

“Beto” is a Spanish nickname that O’Rourke has had since his childhood.

Trump was last in El Paso in February, when he held a campaign rally and O’Rourke headlined a dueling event. The president’s campaign has yet to reimburse the city more than $470,000 for police and public safety services associated with his rally. O’Rourke has since paid what he owed the city for his rally. Trump also visited Texas last year to hold a rally in Houston with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz when O’Rourke was running against him.

Trump is scheduled to touch down early Wednesday afternoon in El Paso and stay for a few hours. The White House has not released any details about what he plans to do there.

Around the time Trump arrives in El Paso, O’Rourke is scheduled to attend an event “to honor those lives lost, confront President Trump and white supremacy, and demand responsible gun control.”

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Presidential candidate O’Rourke talks immigration, child detention at Clint Border Patrol Station

In the heat of an El Paso June day, approximately 200 protesters gathered to challenge child detention and cheer on presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke.

With cars parked up to a 1/4 mile away and a hoard of press in attendance, local El Paso politicians spoke out against child detention before welcoming O’Rourke.

Roughly five counter-protesters chanted from across the street. When they crossed to be closer, they were met with mostly annoyance.

Their chants of “finish the wall” were met by responses of “we are the wall” from individuals who blocked their approach.

O’Rourke took to the stage, pausing for selfies and handshakes as he snaked through the crowd. “Thank you for bearing witness to what is happening in our name, right now, in the United States of America,” he began.

“The only way this is going to get better, the only way that it is going to change, the only way that you can really be here for these kids is to be here right now for those kids and to share with our fellow Americans just what is being done in our name.”

O’Rourke called the detention of immigrant the largest incarceration of children who had not been convicted of a crime in American history – second only the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Prior to his arrival at Clint, O’Rourke and his team visited with families at Casa Del Migrante, the largest shelter for migrants in Juarez.

There they spoke to families and individuals who had been sent to Mexico to await their court date, including a 19-year-old woman who was separated from her parents and younger siblings.

Of the experience, O’Rourke shared “We met people, our fellow human beings, who are leaving some of the most horrific conditions that you can imagine.

The O’Rourke campaign released a statement yesterday, reading, “Earlier this year, O’Rourke released a sweeping immigration plan to immediately end family separation and reunite those already separated, protect asylum seekers, create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people and make naturalization easier for 9 million eligible immigrants, establish a first-of-its-kind community-based visa, and only require detention for those with criminal backgrounds who represent a danger to our communities. His plan would also more than double U.S. investment in Central America to address the violence and instability in the Northern Triangle driving so many families to flee.”

Author and Photos by – Jordyn Rozensky / Frontera Studio – El Paso Herald Post

Beto O’Rourke releases 10 years of tax returns

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.”

Read related Tribune coverage

Jenna Johnson in Charlotte and Michael Scherer in Washington contributed to this report.


Beto O’Rourke raises $6.1 million in first 24 hours – beating Bernie Sanders and all other 2020 contenders

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.

O’Rourke formally entered the presidential race Thursday morning. In the video announcing his candidacy, O’Rourke said he will travel the country before returning to El Paso on March 30 for a kickoff rally.

Additional reporting by Patrick Svitek.

Author: ALEX SAMUELSThe Texas Tribune

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 plans Iowa trip as 2020 announcement nears

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.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Presidential campaign would test Beto O’Rourke’s elusive political identity

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 both TPA and TPP. 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 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.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke was honored at the El Pasoan of the Year ceremony Feb. 19. Photo courtesy El Paso Inc./Jorge Salgado

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.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Beto O’Rourke not challenging John Cornyn in 2020

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.

Julián Aguilar contributed to this report.


Beto O’Rourke is days away from a 2020 decision. Here are six questions that loom over him.

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.

For starters, he’d be competing against a handful of Democrats, including one from the same stateJulián Castro, all trying to collect cash. (For example, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, raised $6 million within 24 hours of announcing his run). If O’Rourke won the Democratic nomination, he’d then be up against Trump, who already has more than $106 million on hand for his re-election campaign.

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.

Compared to Democrats already campaigning, O’Rourke is behind in the money racesince he stopped fundraising after Election Day and left little in his Senate campaign coffers. What’s working in his favor is that he and Sanders have the most small-dollar contributors — which could tee up the El Pasoan to be a force to be reckoned with should he choose to run.

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. A recent 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?

The 2020 Democratic primary is already the most diverse one ever: Two black candidates — U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — have entered the race, several women are looking to secure their party’s nomination and some presidential hopefuls are running to the left of their party’s base.

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.

If voters opt for the former, that could spell trouble for O’Rourke. The former congressman hasn’t been shy in rejecting a socialist label for himself, often voted against a majority of House Democrats and in favor of bills supported by the GOP, and has publicly declared himself a capitalist.

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.

Author: ALEX SAMUELS  – The Texas Tribune

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