In 2012, Beto O’Rourke, then a member of the El Paso City Council, waged an uphill battle against an entrenched incumbent, coming at him from the left. He won, and has served in Congress ever since.
On Friday, O’Rourke announced his decision to run for the U.S. Senate, specifically the seat that Ted Cruz holds, using a very similar strategy. O’Rourke has pledged to not take any PAC or corporate money, and has espoused populist positions such as being warm to term limits for Congress. O’Rourke also lambasted reliance upon typical Democratic pollsters and consultants, blaming them in part for Democratic losses of late.
That choice has been panned by some in the national press. Chris Cillizza of CNN described it as “how to lose a race before (it) even starts.” But the sentiment might be emblematic of a deeper divide within the Democratic Party.
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!
Horwitz is a first-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist. Follow hin on Twitter @NmHorwitz.