STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The real lesson of Beto O'Rourke's run

The most frequently contemplated question in Texas politics this campaign season is whether Democratic US Re...

Posted: Oct 22, 2018 4:06 PM
Updated: Oct 22, 2018 4:06 PM

The most frequently contemplated question in Texas politics this campaign season is whether Democratic US Rep. Robert "Beto" O'Rourke can defeat Republican US Sen. Rafael "Ted" Cruz.

The expedient answer would be to dismiss O'Rourke's telegenic political rise as an anomaly in the firmament of this state's unyielding conservatism. The Irish descendant from the Hispanic borderlands of Texas has, however, given the state's Democrats a gift they have found too surprising to completely unwrap. Or maybe it has just caught them off balance.

Beto O'Rourke

Continents and regions

Demographic groups

Donald Trump

Elections and campaigns

Government and public administration

Latino people

Minority and ethnic groups

North America

Political Figures - US

Political organizations

Politics

Population and demographics

Society

Southwestern United States

Ted Cruz

Texas

The Americas

United States

US Democratic Party

US political parties

Voters and voting

What, they must be wondering, do you do with hope?

Beto has delivered Democrats the first notion in a quarter of a century that their party may yet become ascendant. The crowds O'Rourke has drawn are historic and presidential in size; the candidate, who plays a bit of guitar, joined Willie Nelson lakeside in downtown Austin and attracted 55,000 people.

President Trump, who had vowed to find the biggest stadium available in Texas to stump for O'Rourke's incumbent opponent, is scheduled to appear at the 8,000-seat NRG arena. (The capacity at NRG, Mr. President, is 94,000 less than Kyle Field at Texas A&M University, the state's largest venue).

O'Rourke's endless tour of Texas has provided almost magical optics of enthused crowds, and during his travels to all 254 of the state's counties, he has claimed to not be running against anyone but running for everyone. He thinks a positive message can win in the state where Karl Rove sharpened political long knives and attack tactics to elect the entire government. Regardless, national journalists keep posting hagiographies of Beto with Texas datelines and suggest the congressman is made of presidential fiber and is transforming the Texas Democratic Party.

And some of that is accurate.

O'Rourke set a fundraising record for a single quarter in a US Senate campaign by bringing in just over $38 million from 800,000-plus donors. His ability to generate those types of numbers without accepting PAC money has Texas Democrats wondering if Beto has awakened the sleeping progressive masses. But there are other, contradictory figures.

A new poll from CNN, conducted by SSRS, interviewed 1,004 Texas residents by phone between October 9-13, and discovered that Cruz led O'Rourke 52% to 45%. There were 862 registered and 716 likely voters in the sample, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points (for likely voters). As Election Day approaches, Texas appears to remain unshakably Texas.

What is Beto supposed to do?

National Democrats are calling on him to share his millions with candidates elsewhere who have a better chance of winning, which is not why his donors flooded him with money. They want him to spend it on excising Cruz from the Texas political profile.

A better idea for Beto than giving away his war chest might be to put away his sunny disposition and counterpunch. Attack ads work, and Cruz has bloodied Beto's Kennedyesque nose with a misleading slam about the El Pasoan's interest in raising taxes on the state's prolific energy industry.

O'Rourke had a chance to explain that deception in his second debate with Cruz in San Antonio on Tuesday night but probably decided it was too complex for a 90-second response. Instead, he pointed out that the President, who is coming to Texas to support Cruz, has referred to him as "Lyin' Ted," and that Cruz has missed more votes in the US Senate than any member in the past 25 years. The senator did spend a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, campaigning for president and enduring insults from Trump.

O'Rourke did get more aggressive the day after their last debate and began spending on ads that went directly at Cruz's record and the accusations in his broadcast attacks.

There remain, also, unmeasured dynamics that could change Beto's fate. If he can persuade Hispanics to vote by explaining that DACA will die if they don't, that more families will be separated at the border, and paths to citizenship will be closed, then they might vote in historically disproportionate numbers.

Middle-class, conservative, suburban women in Texas may also be hiding their contempt for President Trump and may be ready to send a message to Cruz and the GOP, and young millennial voters could realize their future is slipping away and they are not using their collective voices.

Could. Might. May.

Texas does have new voters for candidates to persuade, though. There are 1.6 million more registered since the last midterm election, which means a record 15.6 million can cast ballots. Encouraging indicators for Beto's supporters include the fact that in Houston (Harris County), Hispanic voter turnout in the midterm primary was up 164% over the last midterm election in 2014. There are, nonetheless, fewer than 5 million of the state's 11 million Latinos registered to vote.

If Beto's magical narrative can prompt those new young voters, Latinos and suburban women to turn out in unprecedented numbers, he might become the new US senator from Texas. Even if he loses, however, O'Rourke will not disappear from the American political landscape. Texans are not his only audience. Beto knows the power of hope.

And against the odds, win or lose, he's already changing Texas.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the second debate between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke. It was San Antonio.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 30900

Reported Deaths: 1111
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds249840
DeSoto159416
Madison130034
Jones112449
Neshoba98871
Rankin93412
Harrison91211
Lauderdale90979
Forrest86942
Scott77115
Jackson62216
Copiah60215
Washington5849
Leake57819
Holmes55341
Lee54718
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51518
Yazoo5096
Leflore48751
Grenada4835
Lowndes48313
Lincoln46034
Lamar4587
Pike43112
Monroe40130
Lafayette3914
Sunflower3727
Attala36023
Covington3565
Panola3506
Newton3399
Bolivar33414
Simpson3173
Adams31118
Pontotoc2866
Tate28310
Marion28111
Chickasaw27718
Claiborne27410
Noxubee2638
Jasper2626
Winston2616
Pearl River25432
Clay25010
Marshall2323
Smith21811
Clarke20724
Union2079
Coahoma2016
Walthall1995
Kemper17914
Lawrence1772
Yalobusha1707
Carroll16511
Humphreys1479
Tallahatchie1364
Itawamba1358
Montgomery1322
Calhoun1304
Tippah13011
Hancock12813
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1114
Prentiss1083
Jefferson1073
Greene1058
Tunica1003
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George883
Tishomingo801
Quitman760
Choctaw744
Alcorn692
Perry664
Stone651
Franklin452
Sharkey370
Benton360
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 44375

Reported Deaths: 984
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5221152
Montgomery4127103
Mobile4080134
Tuscaloosa228842
Marshall171110
Madison14307
Lee138437
Shelby128423
Morgan11025
Walker93924
Elmore92514
Franklin89514
Dallas8809
Baldwin8649
Etowah73913
DeKalb7195
Butler63328
Chambers62927
Autauga60712
Tallapoosa59169
Russell5520
Unassigned50323
Houston4964
Limestone4950
Lauderdale4906
Lowndes47221
Cullman4524
Pike4295
Colbert3956
St. Clair3822
Coffee3772
Bullock36910
Covington3587
Calhoun3545
Escambia3506
Barbour3492
Hale31121
Talladega3097
Marengo30211
Wilcox2918
Dale2880
Sumter28512
Clarke2746
Jackson2732
Winston2583
Chilton2462
Blount2351
Monroe2352
Pickens2356
Marion22413
Conecuh2097
Randolph2069
Choctaw19512
Macon1949
Bibb1901
Greene1868
Perry1771
Henry1343
Crenshaw1253
Washington1097
Lawrence1080
Cherokee977
Geneva800
Lamar771
Fayette701
Clay652
Coosa581
Cleburne361
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 82°
Columbus
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 81°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 82°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 82°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather