Don’t count Robert Francis — the phony Hispanic who goes by “Beto” — O’Rourke out of the running just yet. He may only be sixth in the latest 2020 poll, and third in terms of fundraising (with Biden likely to push him down to fourth), but the Democrat who campaigned on turning Texas blue in 2018 just picked up a key staff member that could change the game.
O’Rourke hired Jeff Berman, delegate election director for Barack Obama and delegate strategist for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as senior adviser for delegate strategy, Politico reported. Berman helped guide Obama through the complex delegate battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination, a key part of Obama’s successful strategy against Hillary Clinton that year.
Jen O’Malley Dillon, O’Rourke’s campaign manager, said in a statement that Berman was “one of the first people I reached out to when I came on board because delegate strategy is so critical to our overall strategy.”
O’Rourke has been staffing up in key nominating states such as Iowa. He also hired Rob Flaherty, the former creative director at the progressive super PAC Priorities USA and deputy digital communications director for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
O’Rourke raised a groundbreaking $80 million in his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last year, and he has raised $9.4 million so far in his 2020 campaign.
His campaign hit multiple snags right after the launch, with an embarrassing Vanity Fair story showing a self-obsessed candidate oblivious to the damage his run for president might cause to his young children. The candidate later said his charitable contribution to the world is … himself.
Shortly after he entered the race, O’Rourke faced a formidable opponent running in the same “lane” of the primary — the young inspiring Democrat. Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, stole Beto’s thunder with his well-spoken humble style of campaigning. Buttigieg, an openly gay Afghanistan veteran and Rhodes Scholar, seems a perfect foil for Trump, and in many ways a “better Beto.”
Yet former Vice President Joe Biden shook everything up when he entered the Democratic primary last month. In a Hill/HarrisX poll released Monday, Biden took a whopping 46 percent, leaving Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the runner-up in 2016, in the dust at 14 percent. Buttigieg took third with 8 percent, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 7 percent and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at 6 percent.
O’Rourke tied with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in sixth place at 3 percent.
Even when it comes to fundraising, Beto’s forte, the Texan took third, and will likely fall to fourth place after Joe Biden has time to raise more money.
In the first 24 hours of his campaign, Biden raised $6.3 million. This placed him fifth in the fundraising race — compared to candidates who have been raising money for months.
Buttigieg ($7 million), O’Rourke ($9.4 million), Harris ($12 million), and Sanders ($18 million) have raised more than Biden, but that state of affairs is likely to vanish quickly.
O’Rourke is trying to turn his campaign around, and scoring Obama’s 2008 delegate director is a major coup. While national polls put O’Rourke behind even Buttigieg, delegates are the true key to the nomination.
“The 2020 primary is almost certain to end in a long delegate fight, with so many candidates and the party’s proportional rules that gives delegates to winners and losers,” CNN’s Jeff Zeleny noted. “That’s why Jeff Berman joining Team Beto is big news. Without Berman, Obama likely wouldn’t have won in ‘08.”
The 2020 primary is almost certain to end in a long delegate fight, with so many candidates and the party’s proportional rules that gives delegates to winners and losers. That’s why Jeff Berman joining Team Beto is big news. Without Berman, Obama likely wouldn’t have won in ‘08.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) May 9, 2019
If Biden’s support drops and the field becomes more competitive, Jeff Berman may be Beto’s ace in the hole. Even so, the prideful Texan will have a long battle for the nomination, especially since he’s not the only Texan in the Democratic primary. Last week, Julián Castro — former San Antonio mayor and former sectary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama — raised enough money to make it into the debates.
With Castro as his fellow Texan and Buttigieg dominating his “lane” of the primary, Beto will struggle to pull through, even with Jeff Berman by his side.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.