For the third time since March of this year, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke is trying to launch a new spin on his presidential campaign. After coming out of the gate with the highest fundraising rate in the field, his candidacy quickly faltered as he failed to connect with voters at small campaign events and eventually became lost in the mix while other candidates spent their time making national television appearances.
Some of the polling for Beto has been gruesome, at one point he received zero percent support in a poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters. With two debate appearances under his belt and no bounce in support to follow those performances, something had to change if Beto is going to continue seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Then, on August 3, an unspeakable tragedy happened in Beto’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. A gunman entered a Walmart and opened fire killing 22 people and injuring countless others. From the moment the events unfolded, Beto suspended his campaign and returned to his hometown as a show of solidarity with his community.
In making numerous television appearances and speaking to national media from El Paso, Beto found a new sense of direction for a campaign, and the plan was formed to relaunch his candidacy and try a different strategy, as ABC News reports:
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke gave a speech in El Paso, Texas Thursday, looking to revive his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, in the wake of a mass shooting in the city that resulted in the deaths of 22 people.
“We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem,” O’Rourke said, naming President Donald Trump. “I want to be the leader for this country that we need right now and we do not have … I want to be the kind of leader for this country that El Paso has raised me and taught me to be.”
O’Rourke said that during the rest of his campaign, you’ll find him in “places that Donald Trump has been terrorizing and demeaning” — here meaning immigrant communities.
It’s a more unconventional campaign approach to focus less on early primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, and more on areas with large immigrant populations. But O’Rourke said he wanted to be there for them, explaining, “Anyone that this president puts down, we’re going to do our best to lift up.”
It’s easy to empathize with this kind of slaughter taking place in Beto’s hometown, but will this new direction really help to carry him to the 2020 Democratic nomination? The idea of throwing off the conventional campaigning in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, is nothing new, and it’s been tried before, usually to failure on the part candidates who ignore the early states.
Beto has already qualified for the September and October Democratic debates, so he’s at least locked in for wide exposure to bring his campaign relaunch theme to a national audience.
What about running for Senator in Texas against Republican John Cornyn? Beto says, in his opinion, that job is now beneath him, and he owes it to his hometown of El Paso to press forward:
Beto O’Rourke has to keep finding new ways to tell people he isn’t running for Senate.
On Thursday night it was MSNBC and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
“You know the question’s going to keep coming up,” O’Donnell told the former Texas congressman, “this question of what about dropping out of this presidential race and taking up the race for the Senate.”
O’Rourke has never expressed any interest in running for Senate this year, after his near-miss loss to Ted Cruz in 2018. And it was only hours earlier, in a speech in his home town of El Paso, Texas, that O’Rourke rejected the suggestion, saying, “That would not be good enough for this community. That would not be good enough for El Paso. That would not be good enough for this country.”
Beto is trying his hardest to build some kind of coalition of Democratic voters to start moving his poll numbers which have been terrible for several months now. In some ways, the defiance is understandable, he doesn’t want to run yet another Senate race after having come so close last year to beating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Cornyn would be a different kind of battle, and Beto still has plenty of time to continue a presidential campaign before deciding to return to his home state for another senate run, if he eventually decides to switch gears despite what he’s saying now.
As noted above, he’s guaranteed at least two more Democratic debates, so there really isn’t any reason to drop his campaign based on low poll numbers. It’s well worth sticking around for the next few months to see if he can present himself as a better, more youthful alternative to the Bernie/Biden/Warren trio. His biggest rival, and perhaps the candidate with whom he shares the most voters, is probably Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Ind. Buttigieg is also young and looking to offer himself as a “fresh” option for the party, but he’s been able to do it in a way which has usurped Beto’s momentum.
The bottom line is that whenever candidates have to spend time figuring out how to relaunch their campaign after months of campaigning, it’s rarely ever good news moving forward. Perhaps the one exception is then-Senator Barack Obama, who retooled his campaign to better fight against Hillary Clinton in 2008. Obama figured out the right messaging and won the nomination, but his appeal is much different than Beto’s.
Beto’s newfound focus on President Trump is also somewhat perplexing since Trump has always been and continues to be the defined opponent of all the Democratic contenders. Trump is, after all, the incumbent in the White House, and Beto’s new relaunch vowing to “focus on the source” of the county’s problems sounds like reiterating every reason he already gave for launching campaign back in March.
Time will tell if Beto’s new campaign strategy will bear fruit, but he’s got the cash on hand and the national exposure of two debates coming up to keep him moving and give him another chance to connect with Democratic primary and caucus voters.