If you like Cruz-O’Rourke 2018, you’ll love Cruz-O’Rourke 2020.

Good day Austin:

I recently went to see a test screening at the University of Texas of Run Like the Devil, a documentary about the U.S. Senate race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, which will have its first screenings at the Austin Film Society Cinema on Sept. 6 and 7.

From director Steve Mims, who lectures at UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film:

RUN LIKE THE DEVIL, the inside account of the increasingly tight Ted Cruz-Beto O’Rourke U.S. Senate contest will premiere in Austin, Texas on September 6 at the Austin Film Society Cinema and go on to tour the state with a dozen screenings. 

A non-partisan deep dive that goes beyond the political campaign, the film threads the stories of the candidates with those of their respective political parties during a historic period of national political tumult. Participants include O’Rourke, Cruz, Evan Smith (CEO, Texas Tribune), Mark McKinnon (political consultant), David Richards (Ann Richard’s ex-husband and redistricting litigator), Bob Moore (former editor, El Paso Times) and others.

Produced by Richelle Fatheree and directed by award-winning Austin-based director Steve Mims, the film is an attempt to get beyond partisanship and down to the stark choice the two candidates represent. “We had the cooperation of both campaigns and our mission was to lay it all out in an honest, clear, and entertaining way,” said Mims. “If you were writing a fictional campaign you couldn’t create two more different characters with more opposite positions. In that sense the movie really makes itself.”

After the Austin premiere the film screens through September and into October in cities including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, El Paso, Huntsville, Tyler, Nacogdoches, McAllen and Wichita Falls. More dates are being added.
Screenings (as of August 13, 2018)

Thursday, Sept. 6 AUSTIN / Austin Film Society / Austin Cinema / 7:00 pm
Friday, Sept. 7    AUSTIN / Austin Film Society / Austin Cinema / 6:30 pm
Sunday, Sept. 9 NACOGDOCHES / Liberty Hall / 4:30pm
Monday, Sept. 10 TYLER / Liberty Hall / 7:00pm 
Thursday, Sept. 13 HOUSTON / Museum of Fine Arts, Houston / 7:00 pm
Saturday, Sept. 15 EL PASO / El Paso Film Festival / 9:00 pm
Monday, Sept. 17 HUNTSVILLE / Old Town Theater / 7:00 pm
Saturday, Sept. 22 LUBBOCK / Flatland Film Festival 
Monday, Sept. 24 McALLEN / Cine El Rey Theater / 7:00 pm
Thursday, Oct. 11 WICHITA FALLS / Midwestern State University / 7:00 pm
Oct. 12-13 DALLAS / Dallas Video Festival DocuFest 
Sunday, Oct. 21 FORT WORTH / Sunday Cinema Series 

From Mia Galuppo at the Hollywood Reporter back in April:

Director David Modigliani (Crawford, Wounded: Battle Back Home) and his company Live Action Projects have announced a co-production with Crooked Media for a feature documentary that will follow Congressman Beto O’Rourke as he runs to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections. 

“Partisan polemics make for boring stories,” said Modigliani. “That’s why Crooked Media is the perfect co-producer for this project; it’s the home for entertaining, no-bullshit conversations about politics and we’re making an entertaining, no-bullshit film about this campaign.”

The Austin-based filmmaker and his team have been following O’Rourke since October 2017 and will continue shooting through election night of the much-anticipated midterms. Former Tribeca Film Festival head Nancy Schafer is producing, along with Michelle Modigliani, Rachel Ecklund and former SXSW programmer Rebecca Feferman.

The Crooked team went down to Texas to witness O’Rourke’s campaign firsthand. “It reminded me of being back in Iowa in 2007 with Barack Obama and the feeling of that campaign,” says Tommy Vietor, who co-founded Crooked Media with fellow, former Obama staffers Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett.  

“This race and how [O’Rourke] has run it tells a story about the way politics should be, the way it used to be. When candidates were accessible in media and town halls and answered questions,” says Vietor. “It is a story that can endure beyond this race and tell a bigger picture about American politics.”

Meanwhile, McClatchy is embedding with the O’Rourke campaign for a weekly video documentary series.

There is a reason for all this embedding with O’Rourke. He is the most open and accessible candidate I’ve encountered. Anyone watching his live stream of his campaign on Facebook is already virtually embedded with the campaign.


And, as Cruz notes in the trailer for Run Like the Devil, O’Rourke is the perfect media/filmmaker darling, while Cruz is, to put it in professional wrestling terms, the perfect heel.

While Run Like the Devil gives Cruz equal screen time, and bends over backwards to give him his due, it is still, ultimately, a film designed to help elect O’Rourke to the U.S. Senate.

O’Rourke’s appeal is not just his accessibility. He is also, along with Obama, the most gifted politician I’ve ever encountered.

I spent the day before Obama won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in March 2004 with Obama in Chicago and wrote a story the day after the election that began as follows:

CHICAGO _ Meet Barack Obama.

With his smashing victory in Tuesday’s primary to become the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, the 42-year-old state senator and University of Chicago law instructor stands poised to enter the national stage, and history. If elected — and the odds now favor him — he would be only the third black senator since Reconstruction.

“The moment he sets foot in the U.S. Senate he is going to be a national figure, not only national but international,” says U.S. Rep. Janice Schakowsky, an early supporter, whose district embodies the “lakefront liberals” —  mostly white and Jewish — who are part of Obama’s base.

Tall, fresh and elegant, Obama is certain to be an overnight sensation in national Democratic circles.

Meanwhile, Cruz is the most gifted Republican politician of his generation — a formulation that allows me to avoid comparing his skills to those of Trump, which are truly sui generis.

But for Donald Trump, Cruz might have succeeded in securing the Republican nomination and perhaps even the presidency in his first term in the U.S. Senate, an Obamian feat.

In other words, Senate campaigns rarely if ever feature two such talented candidates, in, with the backdrop of Texas politics, such a titanic setting.

It is a shame that it has to end, and so soon.

In less than three months, it will be over.

But it doesn’t have to end.

At the test screening of Run Like the Devil, one of the small audience in attendance told Mims that his film may prove of historic, archival importance because it is likely that either Cruz or O’Rourke will someday be president. (He said his money is on O’Rourke.)

I think he’s right about Cruz and/or O’Rourke, and, if so, this election is not just about who will represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, but also about which one of these two candidates is most likely to be his party’s nominee for president as early as 2020, with the possibility, however long the odds, that it could be both of them.

Stepping back, as Abby Livingston recently wrote in the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke remains a distinct long shot.

WASHINGTON — It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange matchup of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

But, as I’ve explained, I think this understates the stakes.

I would go further.

I think if O’Rourke comes within 5 points of Cruz he will be a lock for a place on the Democrat’s national ticket in 2020 — vice president would be a gimme, especially if the candidate for president is a woman — like Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or, more likely, California’s Kamala Harris.

And if O’Rourke were to come within 2 or 3 points of Cruz, I think he would be the presumptive front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination.

Why? Because of his qualities as a candidate, and because his run against Cruz — to Democrats every inch as evil and despicable as Trump — has already made him a national hero to the party faithful, and because the prospect of a candidate like O’Rourke — a Spanish-speaking, border-dwelling, border-loving, Kennedyesque Texas liberal — who could actually put Texas in play, is impossible to resist.

And by, as Livingston puts it, “losing forward,” O’Rourke would be freed of any responsibility to serve in the U.S. Senate.

In victory, O’Rourke would, in order to run for president, have to do a very un-Beto-like thing and essentially abandon any pretense of using the Senate as anything but a platform from which to run for president, and on twice-as-fast timetable as Obama or Cruz.

In narrow defeat, O’Rourke could go straight from losing strong to Cruz to embarking on visits to all of America’s more than 3,000 counties.

From the USGS:

There are 3,141 counties and county equivalents in the 50 States and the District of Columbia. They are categorized as follows:

3,007 entities named “County”
16 Boroughs in Alaska
11 Census Areas in Alaska (for areas not organized into Boroughs by the State)
64 Parishes in Louisiana
42 Independent Cities (1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nevada, and the remainder in Virginia)
1 District – the Federal District or District of Columbia.

Am I crazy?

I spoke this week with J.D. Gins, a veteran Democratic operative and former executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party who is among the most sober observers of Texas Democratic politics even if, or maybe especially because he left politics in 2015, at least for now, to open a brewery and tap house in Taylor.

Gins said that if O’Rourke were to beat Cruz, the pressure on him to run for president would be irresistible, the thinking being that, “If he can carry Texas again, that’s a game changer,  it’s over.”

But even if O’Rourke were to come within 2 points, Gins said, there would still be enormous momentum for O’Rourke to go national.

But can you lose a bid for the U.S. Senate and immediately and successfully run for president?

Well, actually, yes you can. It happened after the last best Senate race in U.S. history back in 1858 — Lincoln vs. Douglas.

I recalled that campaign when I wrote about the likelihood that Cruz and O’Rourke will be debating five times.

The prospect of five debates in a U.S. Senate campaign anywhere, anytime is eye-catching. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in their 1858 Illinois U.S. Senate campaign. (Senators were chosen by legislatures then. Douglas, the incumbent, prevailed, but two years later, Lincoln was elected president.)

Even before this development, the contest between Cruz, 47, and O’Rourke, 45, was emerging as the most-watched Senate campaign in the country. According to the Federal Election Commission, O’Rourke and Cruz each have raised more than $23 million, more than any U.S. Senate candidates this cycle with the exception of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who appears likely to run for president in 2020, and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who won a heated special election that was a singular focus of national attention late last year.

Of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Fergus M. Bordewich writes in the September 2008 issues of Smithsonian Magazine:

Although we regard the debates today as a head-to-head contest for votes, in fact neither Lincoln nor Douglas was on the ballot. U.S. senators were chosen by state legislatures, as they would be until 1913. That meant that the party holding the most seats in the state legislature could choose who to send to the Senate.

Even this was not as straightforward as it seemed. The sizes of districts varied wildly as a result of gerrymandering, in Illinois’ case by Democrats, who dominated state politics. In some Republican-leaning districts, for instance, it took almost twice as many votes to elect a legislator as in pro-Democratic districts.


Still, the debates introduced Lincoln to a national audience and set the stage for his dark-horse run for the Republican presidential nomination two years later.

“Lincoln comes out of the debates a more prominent figure in Illinois and across the country,” says historian Matthew Pinsker. “The key question facing him before the debates was: Can he lead a party? Now he has the answer: He can. He now begins to see himself as a possible president.”

Douglas had won re-election to the Senate, but his political prospects had been fatally wounded. In 1860, he would fulfill his ambition of winning the Democratic nomination for president, but in the general election he would win only one state—Missouri.

Ah yes, that would be the ultimate Texas dream — a 2020 presidential race pitting Beto vs. Ted.

Cruz, who clearly still harbors presidential ambitions, is now loyal to Trump. There is no reason to believe Trump won’t be the nominee.

But with Trump there is no certainty that he will be the nominee. There is more than a passing chance that something will happen that will lead him to walk away, or have to walk away, from the job or re-election. and if that happens, Cruz, assuming he defeats O’Rourke, would be the clear frontrunner to succeed Trump.

None of the other rivals for the party’s nomination in 2016 proved his equal.

No other potential candidate has the same national network of donors and grassroots supporters.

And Cruz could put it together on a dime if an emergency situation requires a quick successor to Trump.

So, while Cruz-O’Rourke is not likely, it is not beyond the realm of the possible as long as Texas voters cooperate and re-elect Cruz, but by the slenderest of margins.

There is, of course, one big loser in this fantasy — Julián Castro — who, like his twin brother, Joaquín, passed on running for U.S. Senate or governor this year. Instead Julián Castro is exploring a run for president.

O’Rourke now complicates Castro’s national prospects. The best scenario for Castro is that O’Rourke wins and refuses to consider being on a national ticket in 2020, which would make Texas appear ripe and make Castro the next-best-Texan to serve on a national ticket. Otherwise, from a purely selfish political perspective, the next best scenario for Castro would be if Cruz wins and O’Rourke takes a job teaching English literature at the University of Texas at El Paso, or better yet, his alma mater, Columbia University.

O’Rourke/Castro or Castro/O’Rourke 2020 would run up against the constitutional prohibition on electors voting for both a presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate from their own state.

But Castro could always pull a Cheney, who, like George W. Bush, called Texas home when Bush picked him to be his running mate, and register to vote in Wyoming.



Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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