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.”
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.”
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!”
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
Had an absolute time for this one day trip to El Paso! Started with a wine harvest festival, ending with Jenga, new friends, and my beautiful girlfriend Destoni! #beer #austinbeer #friends #elpaso #topgolf @ Topgolf https://t.co/V8JWSihjoC
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