The Democratic field for 2020 is only getting more crowded, not less, as March soldiers on, and as he's been hinting at for weeks now, Texas Congressman Beto O' Rourke is running for the White House.
Beto O'Rourke announced Thursday he is running for president, entering the 2020 race with a call for Americans to look past their differences in order to confront the challenges facing the country.
"This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us," the 46-year-old Democratic former congressman from Texas said in a video announcing his candidacy. "The challenges that we face right now, the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater."
"They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America," he added.
O'Rourke, who is starting a three-day swing through eastern Iowa on Thursday, said he will hold a kick-off rally for his campaign in El Paso, Texas, on March 30.
His entrance into the race is the culmination of his two-year, out-of-nowhere rise from a back-bench congressman largely unknown outside El Paso to Democratic stardom as a record-breaking fundraiser, the subject of an HBO documentary and the target of two separate efforts to draft him into the presidential campaign. He joins a crowded field of more than a dozen Democrats vying for the party's nomination.
In his announcement video, O'Rourke said he would run a "positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country."
"We saw the power of this in Texas, where people allowed no difference, however great or however small, to stand between them and divide us," O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke last year lost that race in Texas, a bid to oust Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Still, the Senate race thrust O'Rourke, who served three terms in the House, into the national spotlight. He shattered fundraising records, ending with an $80 million haul, and finished less than 3 percentage points behind Cruz -- much closer than other Democrats had come in recent years against Republicans in a state that's long been a GOP stronghold. But a presidential bid will be a much different test for O'Rourke, who will face serious pressure from the left for the first time in his political career.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, O'Rourke said the 2020 campaign has "got to be about the big things that we hope to achieve and enact and do for one another."
He said that "the most pressing, the most urgent, the most existential challenge of them all is climate. And the scientists, beyond a shadow of a doubt, know that we have at a maximum 12 years in order to enact significant change to meet that threat and reduce the consequences of the decisions that we made in the past -- the consequences that our kids and the generations that follow will bear."
"But he couldn't beat Ted Cruz in his home state" is a fair criticism of his campaign. "He should be running against John Cornyn, but he'd almost certainly lose anyway" is less so, but still somewhat valid.
I just don't think there's a good reason for Beto to be in the race, given who's already there. I don't honestly know what he brings to the table. If he does win the primaries, then he'll prove me wrong and I'll support him 100%.
But that's what primaries are for, for candidates to make that case. Initially, I'm not buying it. The strongest case for Beto is that he could accelerate a Blue Texas scenario. Nate Cohn explains:
Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020. Republican voters, defined as those who have participated in a recent Republican primary, turned out at a higher rate than Democratic ones. Neither the Hispanic nor youth voter share of the electorate was higher than it was in 2016, when President Trump won the state by nine points.
On the contrary, Democrats in 2020 can be expected to enjoy a more favorable turnout because presidential races tend to draw in more young and Hispanic voters. Mr. O’Rourke might have won Texas last November if turnout had been at the level of a contested presidential race, based on an Upshot analysis of Times/Siena poll responses, actual results and voter file data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.
The data yields an estimate of how every registered voter in Texas would have voted, based on a long list of geographic and demographic factors that predicted vote choice in the Times/Siena polling. Importantly, turnout in 2018 is among those factors, which allows us to fully untangle how much of Mr. O’Rourke’s strength was because of strong turnout among his supporters.
The data indicates that two opposing turnout trends influenced the results. The electorate was older, whiter and more Republican than the state as a whole — or than the 2016 electorate. But an O’Rourke supporter was generally likelier to vote than a demographically and politically similar supporter of Mr. Cruz. This was the pattern nationwide, so it is not obvious that this can be attributed to Mr. O’Rourke specifically; it could have been the favorable Democratic environment more generally.
Either way, the extra turnout boost probably cut Mr. Cruz’s margin of victory by two points.
Mr. O’Rourke might have won with a turnout of around 10 million voters. (The actual turnout was around 8.4 million.) Without the extra edge of a Democratic wave year, it might have taken 11 million votes, a number that is not out of the question in 2020 if Texas is contested as a battleground state.
In other words, Beto did well enough with white Texas midterm voters that if he got presidential year level turnout, he could win the state. That could happen for a number of Democratic candidates, but if Beto can show he has a clear shot to beat Trump (which has to be an easier prospect than beating John Cornyn) then he can make a major tactical case as to why he should be the nominee.
Of course, he has to win primaries to do that. And Josh Marshall makes the case that Beto is already done.
The problem I see for O’Rourke is that these endorsements and the tendency behind them makes him look – maybe accurately – like the presidential candidate of Democratic ‘centrists” – a very thin constituency in Democratic politics at the moment. This may sound like I’m saying the energy of the party is on the left and you’re out of luck if you’re playing to a constituency on the right-center. Not exactly. I think the power and pull of high profile left-wing members of Congress like Ocasio-Cortez and others are greatly exaggerated by their media profiles. As is usually the case, I suspect a successful candidacy will be one who has appeal and acceptability on the left of the party without being owned by it or being perceived as a factional candidate of the left. You may or may not agree with me on that point. But let’s leave that argument for another day. What I’m really quite certain about is that the Democratic nominee is not going to be the factional candidate of Democratic centrists. And the way the roll out played O’Rourke made a good start toward becoming that guy.
This isn’t the first time this has come out. During the Beto-mania that followed the November election a number of high-profile Sanders supporters scalded O’Rourke in a series of much-discussed opinion pieces. The aim was pretty clear: knock the new guy down several pegs to leave the road open for the Bernie millennium. Some of these attacks were downright dishonest or tendentious. Others more reasonably pointed out that for all the excitement about O’Rourke’s campaign against the odious and oleaginous Ted Cruz he actually has a pretty middle of the road voting record and even more than a few votes with Republicans. That spectacle showed the unloveliest parts of the sectarian left around Sanders. But Beto himself did a decent job today validating that critique and positioning himself in the contest in a way that will make winning the nomination a steep challenge.
This is also a fair point, and one that's probably far more applicable. The "incrementalist centrist"is not going to be the nominee, and if Beto is headed for that slot, he's toast.