The Austin Chronicle

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U.S. Senate

Beto, the Great Blue Hope

By Mary Tuma, February 9, 2018, News

No other Democrat this season has elicited more excitement in Texas than U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke. (Sorry, Lupe Valdez and Andrew White.) The F-bomb dropping, social media savvy, progressive congressman with a punk-rock past has filled up standing-room-only gathering spaces statewide with his message of defeating corporate power and restoring liberal ideals to the state.

The 45-year-old, third-term congressman and former El Paso City Council member could easily bash his Republican opponent, the notoriously loathed Sen. Ted Cruz, but instead spends his time on the stump vouching for universal health care, immigrant rights, marijuana legalization, gun background checks, congressional term limits, an end to our seemingly endless foreign wars, and shutting down any talk of a border wall. (For more, read the Chronicle's one-on-one interview with O'Rourke: "Beto O'Rourke's Punk Rock Politics," Oct. 27, 2017.) He's made good on his anti-corporate values by taking in individual contributions over PAC money, of which he's amassed much more than Cruz. (Last week news broke that O'Rourke outraised Cruz by $500,000 in Q4 2017.) Energetic and engaging, O'Rourke sells his platform as a moral imperative, drawing in progressives with his candor and charm. Those Kennedy-esque features don't hurt, either.

But is O'Rourke running a quixotic campaign, or is dethroning a Republican senator in Texas actually possible, given the current political climate? The answer may lie somewhere in the middle. The fall elections in Alabama, New Jersey, and Virginia, and the tide of anti-Trumpism, have ushered in new hope for Democrats. And it helps that O'Rourke is on the trail rallying Latinos (he speaks fluent Spanish), independents, and college-aged first-time voters. It's conceivable he may pick up enough disaffected post-Trump moderate Republicans to at least lessen the margin with Cruz, who bested his 2012 Dem­o­cratic opponent Paul Sadler by 16 points. On the other hand, as despised as Cruz may be among Democrats – and even many Repub­licans – he's still a Tea Party sweetheart in a Republican-led state that sided with Trump by 800,000 votes. With the name "Castro" off the ballot, O'Rourke also doesn't enjoy the benefit of a voter mobilization boost from other high-profile statewide Dem campaigns.

So how can Beto do this? He posed the question rhetorically to me in October. "It's really Texas," he responded. "Texas has decided it's our time, and we're going to win this one."

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