Democrats are seeing a silver lining to Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeDem pollster: Texas, Georgia diversifying because they are 'centers for opportunity' Cruz brushes off question about campaign claim on O'Rourke paying for caravan Trump 'simply wants to keep people out' of US, says recently elected Texas Dem MORE>’s loss in Texas to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House Cruz brushes off question about campaign claim on O'Rourke paying for caravan Texas New Members 2019 MORE> (R).
It means O’Rourke, who emerged in the midterms as a progressive star, is free to run for president.
Talk of O’Rourke running for the White House would have happened if he had defeated Cruz, to be sure. But Democrats say it shouldn’t be quieted by his loss.
O’Rourke finished within 3 percentage points of Cruz, an exceptional performance compared to past Democratic standards in recent Texas Senate races.
Democrats across the country say that if O’Rourke wants to run for president, he has the potential to take the primary by storm.
“If he wants to run, he should do it,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.
“He now has name recognition, a widely successful fundraising operation, a young fresh face with a sprinkling of woke, a cool persona, a new perspective, he speaks Spanish and would be an exciting and upbeat candidate,” she said.
Another strategist was even more enthusiastic.
“I hate to say this because it would piss off a lot of Democrats, but the fact is we have so many people and we really have nobody that's thrilling, nobody that would send a thrill up Chris Matthews’s leg except for Beto,” the strategist said, referencing the MSNBC “Hardball” host, who expressed such excitement about hearing former President Obama speak.
“You know how I know? I had friends calling me to ask about him. I would overhear conversations about him. He's generating the kind of buzz we haven't seen since 'hope and change' ,” the strategist added.
Even Republicans express surprise at O’Rourke’s performance.
“He was able to raise an enormous act of money and that alone separates him from the crowd,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist based in Texas. “He has a bit of a star quality to him. People in Texas were mesmerized and moved by him."
“The fact that he lost by 3 percent is impressive,” Mackowiak added.
O'Rourke finds himself in an unusual situation. Most candidates who lose a race typically go back to the drawing board on career plans. Sometimes, with luck, they can run for the same office again. But rarely do candidates who lose on a lower scale have aspirations for a larger office — never mind the presidency.
Some say it’s too big a jump for the three-term congressman.
“It's hard to know what he should do,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “It's not that he’s not an attractive candidate. It’s just that making a jump from a losing Senate race to a winning presidential race when you've got two dozen competitors and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Kasich: Wouldn’t want presidential run to ‘diminish my voice’ MORE>. Show me an example of that. It doesn't mean he can't do it, you just don't see a path.”
Those who know O’Rourke say he has no plans on running for president and had his sights purely set on winning the Senate seat. When he met with campaign aides earlier this week there was no talk of a White House bid.
In an interview earlier this week, he reaffirmed that he has no intention of running.
“I will not be a candidate for president in 2020,” O’Rourke told MSNBC. “That’s, I think, as definitive as those sentences get.”
But if he chooses not to run, some strategists say he could miss a prime opportunity.
“He has to think hard about it because moments like this don’t come around often in politics and they tend to be fleeting,” said Democratic strategist David Wade, who served as a senior aide to John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKerry tears into Trump for skipping visit to military cemetery: ‘Truculent child president’ Democrats huddle for 2020 ‘friend-raisers’ Massachusetts New Members 2019 MORE>.
Wade compared O’Rourke’s moment with the time Obama captured Democrats’ imagination when he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
“Imagine if Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Is Michelle Obama the one critic Trump can’t hit back? Democrats huddle for 2020 ‘friend-raisers’ O'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines MORE> has deferred his instant connection from the 2004 convention and waited for a safer cycle to run for president,” Wade said. “You can’t guarantee that these moments last forever. Moments change. Political demand signals change.”
If O’Rourke doesn’t run for the White House, Wade predicted his endorsement would be fought over by what’s expected to be a crowded field of candidates.
He’ll then be a wanted surrogate on the campaign trail, Wade said. “And he’s automatically at the top of vice presidential shortlists,” he added.
Mackowiak said one problem O’Rourke faces is that he’ll be out of office during the 2020 campaign season, and thus won’t have a platform.
“He’s going to be just another voice in a crowded field of Democrats who have their own platforms,” he said.
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