A new poll taken in the aftermath of the first Democratic presidential debates shows that former San Antonio Mayor and Housing Secretary Julián Castro is reaping the rewards of a performance that many observers praised. Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke didn’t have as good a night, if polls are any judge.
Todd Gillman, Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, says O’Rourke is struggling to maintain the momentum he had when he entered the race. After the debate, he garnered only 1%, in an ABC/Washington Post poll. Castro’s jump, mirroring South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 4%.
Gillman says Castro is starting to make an impression but has to make major strides to move into the top ranks of Democratic candidates.
“He has been playing a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ approach. He never caught life. He never, before this week, has enjoyed any kind of bubble,” Gillman says. “Well a bubble implies that it’ll burst and we’ll have to see if it grows.”
Gillman says Castro’s numbers benefitted when audiences saw the contrast between him and O’Rourke during a tense exchange on immigration statutes. He says Castro’s assertive style is working in his favor.
“That is an important signal to the electorate because one of the things people are looking for in debates is not just, do you agree with a checklist of policies that I may or may not have created,” Gillman says. “…but do I feel like you’re tough, do I feel you could go toe to toe with Donald Trump in those debates next year, and Castro looked like a fighter and Beto looked a little passive.”
Gillman says voters respond very well to O’Rourke but the former Congressman could back himself into a corner if he does get more specific about his plans and policies.
“It’s a lot easier when you’re a Democrat to position yourself against a Republican. It can be very tricky to position yourself against fellow Democrats, and Beto has not shown that he has much of an instinct or willingness to do that,” Gillman says. “He needs to get more specific, a lot of voters and certainly pundits look at him and say well Beto comes off a little more touchy feely and big picture and let’s have a conversation about that, as opposed to here’s my ten point plan.”
Written by Geronimo Perez.