Former Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke (D-TX) has been meeting with former President Barack Obama. A meeting of these two minds makes a great deal of sense. In Obama, the Democrats found a blank slate candidate on whom voters could project their wishes and dreams and he won two terms. In O’Rourke, the Democrats may have found the answer to their struggles in Texas. And if they can even become competitive in Texas, national politics will shift in the Democrats’ favor. Democrats see 2020 as an opportunity to topple President Trump.
Two years is a long time in politics, but at the same time it’s no time at all. The 2020 primaries are just over a year away. Any serious candidate for president in 2020 must be laying the groundwork now if they have not already started. They must be looking at building campaign staff, and they must have money in the bank or proven access to money.
How much money? The 2016 election cost an estimated $6.5 billion according to OpenSecrets. About $2.5 billion of that was spent on the presidential primaries and election, with the balance spent on congressional and other down ballot elections. The Trump and Clinton campaigns did not spend $2.5 billion by themselves – outside PACs and groups spent fortunes of their own. But the point is, it costs a whopping amount to run for president.
Presumably the Republicans will not have a primary contest. Unless Roger Stone is right, President Donald Trump runs for re-election. But the Democrats’ field is wide open. They have no dominant candidates at the level of governor, and below that are a host of senators and other luminaries who, to be frank, do not make up a deep or formidable bench. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) is a far-left candidate with little appeal beyond the party’s socialist wing and a limited regional appeal. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Sen. Hillary Clinton are re-treads now and a year from now that’s unlikely to change. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (TN) lost his bid for Senate in Tennessee, limiting his appeal. His name ID is also probably prohibitively low outside his state.
All of this leads to now former Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke of Texas. Like Bredesen, he lost his bid for Senate against Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. But there’s more to his loss than meets the eye. Here are three reasons O’Rourke makes a strong candidate for the Democrats in 2020.
No record, no problem
The last Democratic president had no record to run on. In the Illinois state Senate, and then during his brief career in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama was a back-bencher who voted “present” when he could and avoided taking risks at every turn. He even mocked his own thin record when, upon entering the Senate, he was first asked about running for president. But that lack of record, combined with lofty, unifying rhetoric and a strong data campaign, and his racial background, allowed voters to pour their hopes into Obama’s candidacy. They did, and he won twice.
Lack of record once equaled to a lack of resume, but Obama changed the game and Trump changed it again. Since Bill Clinton’s “Man from Hope” branding in 1992, Democrats have increasingly run marketing campaigns as opposed to traditional policy campaigns. Policy can be picked apart, it can be caricatured, and it can be opposed. Marketing is about selling a product and making people feel good about buying it. Like Obama, O’Rourke has no record during his three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Like Obama, he has a brand – “Beto.” His voters felt good about voting for him. He can roast and rip other candidates’ records without having his own drag him down.
Lone Star play
Beto O’Rourke narrowly failed to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. But, he came very close to undoing decades of Republican dominance in the state. He actually beat Cruz in solidly red Tarrant County – the largest county in the United States that traditionally supports Republicans. He did help many Democrats down the ballot win in Dallas, Houston and the counties ringing Texas’ big cities. O’Rourke took advantage of Democrats’ disdain for Trump – who will presumably be on the ballot in 2020 – and brought young and Hispanic voters out to vote in numbers not previously seen in Texas. Texas is a fast-growing, dynamic state with a thriving technology industry. Beto appeals to younger voters’ idealism while also providing what appears to be a safe vote for Texans who may be jaded after decades of Republican rule.
Money & message
Beto O’Rourke can raise money. He outraised Sen. Cruz by more than 2 to 1 and fostered a strong message and ground game. His ads sounded vaguely Republican. He seemed nice. He skateboards. Much of his funding came from outside the state, but much of it also came from within Texas. He did well among long-time Texas residents. His appeal is real, and he is young and dynamic. The Hispanic nickname he carries from his time in El Paso broadens his appeal even more.
All told, Beto O’Rourke can put Texas in play in 2020. He doesn’t need to win Texas, just convince fundraisers he can compete there. He has already proven that. He has no policy baggage and a useful brand. He also will only be 48 years old in 2020, while Trump will be 74.
Take Beto O’Rourke seriously. The revolution in 2020 will be marketed, and he is a solid product. He has already signaled his intention to run, he has shown he can compete in a big red state, he can raise big bucks and he can win the Democratic nomination.
Bryan Preston is a PJ Media alum whose resume includes NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Republican Party of Texas, the Laura Ingraham Show, Hot Air with Michelle Malkin and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.