Texas Democrats: Let’s get Beto O’Rourke to run against Cornyn


There are some die-hard Beto O’Rourke supporters in Texas who want him to run against Senator John Cornyn in 2020. I thought we were all past this conversation, but apparently we are not.

The filing deadline date is December 9 so we are almost down to the wire here. Panic has set in with the political insiders who are reading polls. There are no current candidates who have filed to run against Senator Cornyn that come anywhere close to beating him in the 2020 general election. When Robert Francis O’Rourke’s name is added into the mix, though, he comes within striking distance – 46% to 42% in favor of Cornyn. Hope springs eternal for the die-hards. The poll that adds O’Rourke’s name was commissioned by his supporters. It shows that he is the favorite of Democrats with 58% approval.

There are two problems facing Beto’s supporters, though. The first is that he has insisted all along that he isn’t interested in running against Cornyn. Granted, he did well in his race against Cruz, but this is John Cornyn, not Ted Cruz. Cornyn is high up in seniority and Republican leadership in the Senate. He is also better liked than Cruz is, generally speaking. Beto lost to Cruz by less than 3% and delivered on the best showing for a Democrat in a statewide race in Texas since 1994. Yet, even in a poll commissioned by his supporters, Cornyn is still 4 points ahead of a hypothetical match-up. Plus, Cornyn has a large war chest.

Cornyn is fundraising off the potential of O’Rourke entering the Democrat primary race. I know this because I’ve received the emails. He has raised almost $11 million so far. His campaign raised $3.2 million in third-quarter 2019. Those numbers will only increase as we move closer to the election. 77% of donations were from Texas and 92% were $200 or less.

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MJ Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot and 2018 U.S. House candidate, received much fanfare when she entered the primary race. She is known for running impressive ads that tout her military experience. Other Democrats running for the seat are Royce West, a state senator, Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman and perpetual candidate ever since, Amanda Edwards, a member of the Houston City Council; and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and Jolt. Edwards is a former staffer for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and a protege of hers.

If Beto decides to jump into the race at the eleventh hour, the possible blowback from the supporters of any of the other candidates could be severe. The field is very diverse and we all know how important that is to the party of identity. Hegar and Bell are white, West and Edwards are African-American, Ramirez is Latina. You get the picture. O’Rourke is a Irish-American, despite his Hispanic-sounding nickname.

The second problem with the push to get O’Rouke into the race is the fact that he seems to be concentrating on flipping the Texas House of Representatives. He’s working with a group literally called “Flip The Texas House” to raise money and register voters. He articulates a standard Democrat laundry list of goals that flipping the House will achieve – “racist gerrymandering, and a chance to address gun violence, reproductive rights, Medicaid expansion, criminal justice and climate change in Texas.”

With Texas Democrats nine seats away from retaking the majority of seats in the Texas House, O’Rourke is trying to convince his donor base to send money to an organization called Flip The Texas House, which has targeted 17 House Districts in which Republican candidates won by fewer than 10 percentage points last year. More than half are districts in which O’Rourke won the majority of votes as he ran for U.S. Senate.

“In 2018, I carried nine of the 17 districts now represented by Republicans. So we know that we can do this,” O’Rourke said in the email. “We just need your help to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity.”

Ten of the targeted districts are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and five are in and around Houston. One is in San Antonio and one is in Killeen.

The push follows a 2018 cycle in which Democrats flipped 12 Texas House seats from Republican control. Texas Democrats have not had the majority of seats in the Texas House since 2001.

I don’t doubt that O’Rourke can raise money for either his own run for the Senate or for Democrats running to flip a Republican district. Out of state liberals love to jump on the Beto bandwagon, and he has captured the imagination of state Democrats desperate to turn Texas into a blue state, or at least a deep purple state. Statewide offices are still all held by Republicans and I don’t see that changing in 2020, no matter who the Democrats pick for the Senate race.

O’Rourke’s successor in Congress supports him, of course.

“I know there are a lot of folks in Texas who want to see him do it and who have indeed been encouraging him to do it,” said freshman Rep. Veronica Escobar, the El Paso Democrat who replaced him in Congress. “If he runs, I’d support him.”

Others aren’t so sure that it is a good idea.

“He has passed on this race, and passed in a pretty definite way,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Look, people change their minds. But when part of your image is about being genuine and sincere, changing your mind in a way that makes you look ambitious is discordant with the image that he’s trying to project.”

We’ll know soon if Beto bites and enters the race. I think he’ll wait and run for something later. He’s young yet and he is obviously politically ambitious. Remember he said he’s “born to run”. We’ll have future opportunities to kick around Robert Francis O’Rourke. I’ll take that bet.

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