Beto from the get-go. O’Rourke gets running start in campaign against Ted Cruz

Good morning Austin:

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ted Cruz Friday in his hometown and then traveled to Dallas, Waco, Austin and Houston to meet with voters.

Saturday afternoon he was at Scholz Garten on San Jacinto Boulevard.

 

 

Later, I told O’Rourke that I may have indulged in a little hyperbole in tweeting the size of the Scholz crowd.

“Donald Trump would have called it enormous,” O’Rourke reassured me.

I felt better.

Suffice to say, O’Rourke drew good, enthusiastic crowds on his announcement tour.

O’Rourke:

It’s clear, everywhere across the state, folks are ready and they want somebody to show up and get after it and we’re doing that. Now we’re  going to follow through. A lot of people when they shook hands and posed for pictures said, `Don’t let us down. You said you were going to do this, do it.’

 

 

Here was his announcement in El Paso.

Here is his appearance in Dallas. (Language note: O’Rourke uses the F-word three times in his Dallas remarks. They add a bit of emotional punch to what he is saying, but they are a bit jarring, particularly at a daytime appearance before a large audience of people of all ages and backgrounds.)

He did not Facebook Live his Waco stop.

Clearly, there is a lot of energy among Texas Democrats 70-plus days into the Trump administration and O’Rourke is tapping it.

There are, of course, reasons to be skeptical about his chances.

From R.G. in Texas Monthly: Is Beto O’Rourke On a ‘Suicide Mission’? The El Paso Democrat faces long odds against Ted Cruz.

In announcing his candidacy, the 44-year-old Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke declared in his hometown that he will serve the state rather than run for president and promised to counter the “fear and paranoia” coming for President Donald Trump’s White House.

But O’Rourke is not only from a different time zone than the rest of the state, he may be from a different political reality. “I know Beto. And he’s a good guy. But I think this is a suicide mission,” Texas’ other Republican senator, John Cornyn told Politico.

O’Rourke said Friday he will run for the office by refusing to take either political action committee money or corporate money. Cruz starts the race with $4.2 million in his campaign account, while O’Rourke starts with a little less than $400,000. During his presidential campaign, Cruz’s loosely affiliated Super PACs raised more than $38 million for his campaign. Texas is a state with about 25 media markets. Running a statewide campaign usually costs $1 million to $1.5 million a week, and $30 million in spending is not unusual in a general election. O’Rourke begins by limiting his ammunition. “It’s bear your throat to the wolf,” Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson told me. “[the wolf] may have pity on you but probably not.”

O’Rourke did not specifically rule out having a Super PAC, and in fact one was associated with his 2012 upset primary defeat of incumbent El Paso congressman Sylvestre Reyes. The Super PAC was partly financed by O’Rourke’s father-in-law, El Paso developer Bill Sanders. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Reyes said at the time that Sanders “is using the super PAC to help influence the outcome of this election while circumventing loopholes in campaign finance law to buy Mr. O’Rourke a seat in Congress.” If O’Rourke has a primary opponent, that Super PAC might become an issue because it also was used in an unsuccessful effort to unseat U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas.

O’Rourke does have the skills to run a campaign through alternative media, and is known for using Facebook Live to his advantage. House Democrats staged a sit-in last year after Republicans refused to bring up gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando night club mass murder, but Republicans adjourned the legislative day, prompting the C-Span cameras to shut off. O’Rourke brought the action to national attention by streaming it on Facebook Live. C-Span then picked up O’Rourke’s feed as well as that of another congressman.

More recently, O’Rourke and U.S. Representative Will Hurd of San Antonio charmed the nation with a live stream of their bipartisan road trip town hall from Texas to the nation’s capital after a snowstorm caused the cancellation of their flights. They got stories in The New York Times, Washington Post, and on Good Morning America. One segment of their stream had 1.5 million viewers. Not bad for a free ride.

Cruz is no stranger to social media, though. As a result of his unsuccessful presidential campaign, Cruz has 2.4 million followers on Twitter. O’Rourke has about 10,000. Cruz used his account to tweet: “A liberal Democrat is announcing a campaign today to try to turn TX blue. Stand with us to #KeepTexasRed.”

Yes, O’Rourke voted for Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan, a generational peer, in Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi for speaker, and was very public about it. It’s one of the distinctions between O’Rourke and Castro and one of the reasons why O’Rourke, unlike Castro, does not have much of a future in the House – that and the fact that he has said he would serve no more than four terms and he is already serving his third term.

A Ted Cruz-Beto O’Rourke Senate race would draw tremendous national interest, in no small measure because of how polarizing a figure Cruz is.

 

At Scholz Garten

 

 

 

One might imagine that trying to win a Senate seat in big and expensive Texas would not be high on the national Democratic Party’s to-do list for 2018.

And yet, while Texas Republicans may be better prepared than most to withstand a rising anti-Trump tide, a wave may be coming.

And ….

 

Democrats aim to take out Cruz in 2018. The 2018 map is so bad for the party that to win the Senate majority, they have to prevail in Texas.

The road to a Democratic Senate majority in 2018 runs through Texas — yes, Texas.

Facing a grim midterm map, Democrats are desperately trying to put enough GOP-held seats in play to take advantage of Donald Trump’s unpopularity and carve a credible path back to Senate control. The odds are so long that Democrats must pin their hopes on taking out Ted Cruz in the reliably conservative bastion of Texas.

 Their first ray of hope is the entry of three-term Rep. Beto O’Rourke — a 44-year-old former hard rock musician and internet entrepreneur who speaks fluent Spanish — into the race on Friday. Though Cruz is universally known, Democrats insist he’s not invincible, pointing to the first-term Republican’s poor polling numbers and prolonged focus on running for president.

And they say O’Rourke is formidable enough that they can make a case to donors that they actually have a shot at winning the state — and the Senate overall.

“People want to win and they want to play offense. And Texas represents that,” O’Rourke said in an interview earlier this month. “Texas is how you win back the Senate.”

But first, O’Rourke has to win the Democratic nomination.

Joaquin Castro, the congressman from San Antonio and twin brother of Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, is still weighing whether to enter the race.

There is a line of thought that a primary is just what the Texas Democratic Party needs.

From Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

Rep. O’Rourke jumps into 2018 Senate Race as Abbott endorses Cruz. While talk has died down considerably about a 2018 Republican Primary challenge to Cruz in the wake of his non-endorsement of President Trump at the Republican National Convention, Texas Democrats have been introduced to their Senator through his failed presidential bid – and they didn’t like what they saw. This is likely part of the calculus for O’Rourke’s decision-making heading into 2018 (same with Rep. Castro). And while Democrats are likely to be motivated to turn out in somewhat higher numbers next election cycle in response to Trump’s presidency, as of right now, most don’t know O’Rourke — which is an expensive proposition for anyone seeking statewide office in Texas. Setting aside for the moment all of the usual business about how Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in over 20 years, how Republican the state is, how powerful incumbency is, the less Democratic electorate in non-presidential years, etc. etc., the best thing for the Democratic Party in Texas is not unity, in fact, but a hard fought primary by two well-funded campaigns.  This could breathe a little life into the state party – regardless of what happens in November 2018.  

From Noah Horwitz, a first-year law student from Houston and a columnist at the  Daily Texan: O’Rourke needs primary to prepare for Senate race

While there was some grumbling about Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio jumping into this race as well, signs increasingly say that won’t happen. His absence would be a shame. For all the muttering of party elites that a competitive primary would waste resources, a healthy preliminary round would be about the best thing Democrats could get.

This would even be true if, as I suspect, a primary re-litigates some aspects of the Clinton vs. Sanders race from last year. The reminiscence has already emerged in the Democratic primary for Governor of Virginia, for which there is an election in November. In his remarks in Austin on Saturday, O’Rourke waded deep into Bernie-ism, particularly when discussing his eschewing of corporate money.

O’Rourke is a good candidate. He is young and is a dead-ringer for Robert F. Kennedy. He is also passionate about many liberal pet issues. But without a rigorous primary, I fear that he might not quite be ready for prime time, so to speak, in taking on Cruz.

O’Rourke repeatedly mentioned El Paso in his Saturday remarks. He mentioned it was the safest major city in Texas. He mentioned a series of touching anecdotes about it. He mentioned it to the detriment of other parts of Texas, most notably the part in which he was speaking. The speech felt like it had parts copied-and-pasted from his stump speeches for the House. Ted Cruz would tear that to shreds.

Cruz is a masterful debater and brilliant political tactician. I was convinced 100 percent from the moment he took his place in the Senate that he would succeed Barack Obama as president, precisely because of the skills he showed time and time again in the 2012 senate election. Cruz can look you in the eye and say — forcefully, articulately and persuasively — that the sky is red. And in most cases, people believe him.

For all the talk of Cruz being reviled and a joke, O’Rourke and all other Texas democrats underestimate him at their own peril.

To say that O’Rourke faces an uphill climb would be a laughable understatement. The odds of victory are close to zero. The best way for them to tick upward is to have a healthy primary. So run, Joaquin, run!

As it happens, after Sholz, O’Rourke went over the Stephen F. Austin Hotel where the Texas Democratic Party was having a reception featuring new Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and the new vice chairman, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who Perez defeated for chairman,

I understand why a Castro-O’Rourke primary could help the eventual winner. But, of course, someone would have to lose, and the net result could easily be knocking both rising stars out of Congress as Ted Cruz rolls to a second term.

At the Saturday reception, O’Rourke invited the prospect of Castro entering the race, while subtly undermining it.

Yes. Imagine. If a Castro-O’Rourke race would draw interest, just think what a sensation a Castro-O’Rourke-Castro race would be.

Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro seem to genuinely like and respect one another. They have both said that if they end up running against one another, they would conduct a campaign that would make Texas proud.

Perhaps.

But, as in sync as the two seem to be, and as much as they might like each other, a primary between the two congressmen in their prime and with everything on the line would  pose a real test of what Freud referred to as “the narcissism of minor differences.”

From Bill Greenblatt last August in the St. Louis American, on Democrats and ‘the narcissism of minor differences’

Aug 4, 2016

We owe to Sigmund Freud the fascinating concept of “the narcissism of minor differences.” He used it to explain the peculiar fact that people who have the most in common tend to have the nastiest and most cruel fights with each other. Freud figured out that we can most deeply despise that which we can most fully understand – and, in human terms, that is people most like ourselves. Among other things, this explains why people are far more likely to be killed by someone they know. In political terms, it explains why primary fights can turn so nasty and leave such deep wounds that continue to hurt long after the party is supposed to band together to defeat the ostensibly common enemy in the other party.

Admittedly, this way of thinking betrays a binary opposition – Democratic versus Republican – that is under a more serious challenge in 2016 than at any time in at least a generation. We understand that many Republicans are defecting from their party’s bombastic presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and many are siding with the Libertarian candidate. And, yes, we suspect that there are Bernie Sanders Democrats who oppose Hillary Clinton so fiercely they will vote for the Green Party candidate in November. We also are familiar with the argument that the general election for president will be decided by how many Republicans vote Libertarian compared to how many Democrats vote Green.

It is our deep conviction that the binary opposition of Democratic versus Republican remains essential to the reality of our political process – even though the narcissism of minor differences has left many of us hating our fellow party-mates so much that we would, for example, risk seeing Trump elected president rather than vote for Clinton.

In other words, however good their intentions, there is some peril in a O’Rourke-Castro primary.

(And, just imagine, if you follow the narcissism of small difference to its logical extreme, how vicious a Castro-on-Castro race would be. There is a movie there.)

While O’Rourke is not nearly as well-known as Castro, let alone Cruz, he does have a deft touch for building a narrative and using social media.

I think this is a smart strategy.

Traveling to every Texas county would give his campaign a story-line, and would reinforce every step of the way a central message – that he is seeking the votes of Texans who his party has mostly given up on the last couple of decades.

“The Ann Richards era was the last era where we truly took  on an all-county statewide initiative,” O’Rourke said Saturday.

But, as recently as 2006, David Van Os, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, visited every county.

From  October 24, 2006, David Van Os – What I Learned About Texas

Dear Friends, Supporters, and Visitors,

I pledged to meet the public at every one of the 254 county courthouses in Texas, and I have met my pledge. The 254th whistlestop was last Friday, October 20, at the Travis County courthouse in Austin. From April to October touring Texas occupied most of the time and energy of my wife Rachel and myself.

Seeing and meeting the good people of Texas in every county, together with absorbing the natural grandeur of our beautiful Texas, was one of the greatest experiences of our lives for both Rachel and myself.

Even more importantly, having learned about the concerns of Texans in every part of the state will make me a much better attorney general and public servant.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. Greg Abbott, now the governor, defeated Van Os by 22 points, slightly better than the 20 points by which Abbott defeated Wendy Davis for governor in 2014.

O’Rourke also noted Saturday that when Ann Richards was elected governor in 19990, “she had an entire ticket, it wasn’t just Ann Richards. That’s the example we need to strive for – to find other folks who are willing to run for these other offices.”

Assembling a strong statewide slate would probably do more to improve O’Rourke’s chances in the fall than an invigorating primary challenge.

Meanwhile, this weekend was HONK!TX, the fabulous annual festival of community street bands.

 

 

 

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