The “Beto Factor”

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Sometimes it’s almost hard to wrap your head around. It was only 29 days ago that we all hit the bricks for the polling places in the midterms, and yet, here we all are, officially on “candidate watch” for 2020. And here, people bitched years ago about the great “sports overlap.” They had nothing on this.

But there is already one particular candidate that I can see topping the horizon, and I think he’s well worth keeping a close eye on, for several reasons. And I highly suspect that you, dear readers, have already spoiled my shock unveiling by reading the article title.

The candidate I’m talking about is, of course, Beto O’Rourke. With the campaign he ran for the US Senate this year, and with the upheaval currently engulfing the Democratic party with regards to the number of people who are chomping at the bit to go up against an overstuffed, unpopular poltroon like Trump, the climate is perfect for an upstart candidate for O’Rourke to make a mark Here are some of the reasons I think O’Rourke could be a power player if in fact he chooses to run.

Name Recognition — Let’s face it, Beto O’Rourke is a certified political rock star. And he got that way by a perfect confluence of events. He was a young, charismatic Democratic candidate going up against an incredibly unpopular GOP incumbent in Ted Cruz, in a state that Democrats are counting on turning purple in the next couple of cycles. When polls started showing O’Rourke as being within striking distance, he became national news. And in a year without a Presidential race at the top of the ticket, he became nearly a media obsession. Mike Bloomberg may have to “hit the road” to Iowa and other early primary states to introduce himself, but if the residents of those states own television sets, they damn well know who Beto O’Rourke is. This is also an advantage over prospective candidates like Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand, even though all of them are veteran Senators. There are very few prospective candidates out there on the Democratic side, such as Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden who are as universally recognized as O’Rourke.

Charisma and appearance — At the height of his campaign, and even in the near aftermath, I heard several people favorably comparing Beto to Barack Obama. This may be applicable, but when I look at Beto O’Rourke, I think of another famous politician, Bobby Kennedy. That lean figure, that quirkily attractive face, the huge grin, the barely controlled mop of hair, it’s all there. As is his apparent undying love for “retail politics.” You take one look at a clip of O’Rourke on the trail, and you can see immediately that he is having the time of his life. He literally loves being out there, talking to people, laughing and listening, and it rubs off. O’Rourke makes a good impression because he has that quality that makes you think of him as the “neighbor next door,” nodding his head and listening as you complain about the line at the DMV. This is a characteristic that was pivotal in the success of many of the new, fresh faces that campaigned on the Democratic side in 2018 across the country.

Fundraising — There is no doubt about it, Beto O’Rourke is a prolific fundraiser. Sweet Jeebus, in the last quarter of fundraising in his Senate campaign, he out raised Obama’s last fund raising quarter in a freakin’ presidential election!  All of that long green didn’t come out of Texas alone, Beto got money from all over the US. And like so many other Democratic candidates, he refused to take corporate and special interest money. That means that, like the Bernie Sanders model, he relies only on small donations from private individuals. This is important because it alows him, like so many Democratic 2018 candidates, to hammer opponents with the rather opaque appearance of their financial statements to the FEC, and tout his independence. Late in the race, when it appeared that O’Rourke would fall short, he was criticized for not sharing the campaign wealth with other, more competitive candidates. O’Rourke had campaign cash left over because he was moderate in his advertising spending. Part of this was due to the fact that a good chunk of his campaign expenditures which will be equally important in a presidential run, mainly

Organization and Infrastructure — Beto O’Rourke built an extremely effective ground game in Texas. He established field offices early, and kept them open and running throughout the campaign. He also had an extensive and effective volunteer presence in the state. I wrote in an article shortly after the election that this was a boon for the Democrats, as it would give them much needed infrastructure for future statewide candidate runs in 2020 and beyond. Nut, if he chooses to run in 2020, guess what? He already has a fully functional state operation ready to rock and roll in Texas. And what he can do in texas, he can do nationwide. Especially if he tarts early, Beto can have his pick of staffers and state management personnel. Also, with O’Rourke’s popularity, and squeaky clean image, he should have no problem attracting volunteers in any state that he chooses to visit in the early going. Once again, his national profile will make him a popular candidate to work or volunteer for, simply because nobody will have to spend time “introducing” their candidate to people in the state who have never heard of him.

Contrast – Democratic candidates in 2018 shared two common featured. They were younger and fresher than their opponents, could speak in coherent sentences, and offered clear, concise issues, with equally clear and concise solutions. And also, they almost universally ignored Donald Trump. This would be a wise course of action for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 as well. Obviously, there will have to be some rhetorical interaction with Trump as a direct opponent, but the secret will to be to keep those interactions policy and issue related, as opposed to direct confrontation on personality issues. Mainly because Trump has one campaign technique, All Sleaze, All The Time. And if the 2018 midterms showed nothing else, it showed that the clear majority of Americans had had their fill of toxic waste in their politics. Whether it’s Beto O’Rourke, or another candidate, they would be well served to make their campaign the political equivalent of opening a window in a sick room. A much needed breath of fresh air.

Messaging — This is where the contrast comes to full fruition. Trump has no other campaign mode than bigotry and fear. I wouldn’t put it past Trump to do a 2020 version of “Iran-Contra,” secretly funnel money into El Salvador to try to pull together another caravan to start strolling up to the southern border. Beto O’Rourke is an inspirational and aspirational speaker. O’Rourke comes from a background that most Americans can identify with, and he didn’t start his political career with a “small” $1 million loan from his father. If you want a quick example, go to Google, watch 10 minutes of a Trump rally, and then watch 10 minutes of a Beto O’Rourke rally. Contrast Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech with a modern, Democratic version of Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” Beto O’Rourke has the looks, the personality, and the passionate speech and vision to take us back to the heady days of John and Bobby Kennedy, focusing on the aspirational, forward looking, positive vision of America that will be the most stark contrast with Trump’s dark vision of a once proud country on a downward spiral that anyone can imagine.

No,I am not forecasting that Beto O’Rourke will run for President, or that he will win if he does. But O’Rourke has several qualifications and built in advantages that will make him a formidable force to be reckoned with if he chooses to make a go of it. 2018 showed that Americans weary of “politics as usual” are looking for new, younger, more charismatic leadership. And remember this. George H W Bush, who will be laid to rest tomorrow, ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate before going on to win the presidency. And Barack Obama used an unexpected keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention to explode onto the national political scene, and launch a successful White House run 4 years later. If there’s one place where lightening can strike twice, it’s in politics.

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