Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke wants to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. O’Rourke’s campaign has enjoyed record fundraising success, and he’s a star among national Democrats. But to win in Texas, he needs to generate excitement among potential voters, especially those who don’t normally turn out to vote in Texas elections.
Christopher Hooks is a freelance journalist, who frequently writes for the Texas Observer. He’s spent the past few months traveling with the O’Rourke campaign. He says the candidate’s star power, and even the new fundraising numbers announced this week, won’t necessarily translated into victory in November.
“He’s probably the best statewide candidate the Democrats have had in 20 years,” Hooks says. “I think his problem really is that the Democratic coalition in Texas is emaciated, it’s weak.”
Another natural advantage for O’Rourke, his connection to the Hispanic community in Texas, hasn’t yet been translated into voter enthusiasm, Hooks says. O’Rourke speaks Spanish, and represents El Paso in Congress. But even in the Rio Grande Valley, which is critical to success for any Texas Democrat. O’Rourke has yet to catch fire.
“The Democratic vote is underdeveloped in these areas,” Hooks says. “Particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, people often vote in the primary, because that’s where local elections are decided. And they don’t necessarily come out in the general election.”
Hooks says O’Rourke has hired more field organizers in the area.
O’Rourke is fond of touting the fact that he has visited all of Texas’ 254 counties during his campaign. Hooks says. And the candidate has made the most of his stardom,both in terms of fundraising and presence within the political zeitgeist. And he may be in a better place than gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who had a similarly high-profile in 2014, only to lose to Gov. Greg Abbott by 20 points.
“I think the major dynamic here is a little bit like what we saw in the NBA finals recently,” Hooks says. “LeBron James is maybe the greatest basketball player in history. All he needed was for the team behind him to be OK enough to let him with the championship. for them. And they couldn’t do it.”
But even if O’Rourke loses, while keeping the race with Cruz close, Hooks thinks some Democrats could see benefits down the road.
“Ted Cruz is not particularly popular in Texas, compared to what he probably ought to be as a Republican,” he says. “I think if [Cruz] has a single digit margin on Election Day, I think a lot of Democrats would be really, really thrilled with that.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.