In recent days, Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been actively gauging support around the country and, from all appearances, seems poised to possibly launch a presidential campaign at some point soon. After failing to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, though falling just short of the goal, Beto’s support remains high within the Democratic Party and he captures a lot of fascination with voters in the same vein as Barack Obama in early 2007.
Politico is reporting that, at the moment, a presidential run looks more likely to happen than not:
Beto O’Rourke is leaning toward running for president, according to four people who have spoken with him or his advisers in recent days.
But for a presidential contender, his radio silence is becoming increasingly awkward.
In Iowa and New Hampshire — where Democrats are accustomed to being courted aggressively by presidential contenders — calls from Democratic Party organizers to O’Rourke’s advisers go unreturned. And a report in the Wall Street Journal on Monday that O’Rourke won’t make any decision before February and is preparing for a solo road trip — but avoiding early nominating states — bewildered even his supporters.
“I have no idea what that is, what that means, what the strategy is,” said Tyler Jones, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina working on a campaign to draft O’Rourke into the presidential race. “Beto’s always done things more unconventionally than other Democratic leaders, so I think it’s very much on brand … I’m sure he has a strategy, and just because we don’t know what it is doesn’t mean it’s not a good one.”
O’Rourke’s former chief of staff, David Wysong, has been speaking privately with Democratic strategists since November, but without any definitive suggestion of the former Texas congressman’s timing for a decision. O’Rourke himself spoke with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley before O’Malley endorsed him last week, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.
In fact, O’Malley goes on to say that from his experience with Beto, there is little question left as to whether we will see an O’Rourke 2020 campaign:
O’Malley’s office declined to comment on the call, and O’Rourke’s advisers did not respond to requests for comment.
But following their discussion, O’Malley suggested to a former adviser that O’Rourke appeared to be leaning toward running. [emphasis added]
Timing is everything in politics. Everything.
Just look at someone like former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, for example. Back in the days before the 2012 campaign, he was popular in the Republican Party and might have had a shot at wresting the GOP nomination from Mitt Romney, but he chose not to run. By 2016, his star burned out with Republican voters and he went nowhere. The same could be said for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the same year.
In politics, you must strike while the iron is hot before voters forget why they liked you in the first place. For a rising star, like Beto, that time is right now. He just spent months captivating voters in Texas and building national name recognition with his high-profile race against Ted Cruz. It’s plausible that if he doesn’t give it a shot in 2020, he’ll be forgotten by the next time it rolls around, especially if a Democrat wins the presidency which would push him at least 8 years away from doing it again.
Republicans Doing Beto Oppo-research
The GOP is taking Beto seriously and has already begun gathering opposition research on the Texas Congressman. According to The Hill, what they’re finding and what they think his weaknesses are may surprise you:
GOP organizations and political action committees have spent recent weeks delving into multiple areas of O’Rourke’s life, from his voting record to a drunken driving arrest in 1998.
Super PAC America Rising, for example, is zeroing in on O’Rourke’s votes during his six years in Congress, which they see as more conservative compared to those of other potential candidates, according to sources familiar with the research.
O’Rourke’s family money and his family’s influence on his past campaigns are also being studied, as are his ties to fossil fuel interests important in Texas.
An official at the Republican National Committee said they’ve already compiled a “hefty” book on O’Rourke as part of their extensive 2020 opposition research “and will continue to add to it.”
The research undoubtedly will surface during the Democratic primary as Republicans look to cause trouble for the former congressman.
The irony here, of course, is that GOP strategists are finding Beto’s voting record leans more conservative than his rhetoric may suggest. Part of that may be due to his roots in deep red Texas, but it’s a wedge that Republicans may be able to drive into the primary and make him defend some moderate positions while he slugs it out with Elizabeth Warren to capture the progressive mantle.
Many Challenges Ahead
Let’s not pretend this will be a cake walk for Beto, should he choose to run. He’s new to the scene, his record is fairly weak in terms of lengthy accomplishments due to his age, and he’ll be fighting for time with some well established Democratic Party fixtures, like Joe Biden, for example.
Beto is hot right now, but his star could easily sizzle if he performs badly in the debates, which will begin in less than 6 months. Voters could decide that they’re fearful he wouldn’t be able to close the deal, as they witnessed in Texas where Cruz seemed beatable, but O’Rourke couldn’t finish him off.
It appears, however, that Beto will take this opportunity that history is giving him and try to make the most of it. He may falter, but at least it can’t be said he didn’t try. On the other hand, he may rise to the occasion, become a fresh voice in the party, and go on to captivate the country by winning the nomination. We’re a long way to that point, let’s see if he actually launches a campaign, first.