Is Beto O'Rourke the Next Wendy Davis?

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas gestures as he speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Beto O’Rourke looks increasingly likely to be this year’s version of Wendy Davis. Remember her?  The liberal darling who ran against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott but lost by a bigger-than-predicted margin because she just didn’t appeal to a bunch of Texas voters Democrats should be able to grab? Right.


O’Rourke probably won’t lose by as much as Davis (the most recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll has him trailing Ted Cruz by five points, where Davis lost by about 20), but he has the same basic problem: he’s extremely exciting to rich, white liberals in places like Austin and Dallas. He’s significantly less exciting—despite his Spanish nickname—to Hispanic voters in South Texas. Don’t believe me? Look how he performed in his own primary against a virtually unknown Hispanic Democrat. See all the green on that map? That’s a problem for O’Rourke.

This is probably one of the reasons that he so prominently went to DEFCON 1 over family separations occurring on the border. While clearly a lot of Americans of all stripes and backgrounds were upset by images of kids separated from their parents on TV screens across the nation, it’s not a stretch to imagine that in border areas, with Hispanic voters, they played especially badly. But O’Rourke couldn’t get a clean shot at—or an edge over—Cruz on this issue because Cruz was one of the first and most notable members of Congress to step up and announce he’d introduced legislation to end family separations. That probably kept a lot of those Democratic-leaning Hispanics O’Rourke needs to tap on the fence—and out of his column.

But O’Rourke also keeps missing this weird issue I wrote about before in Webb County—which he lost in the primary—and it’s this kind of thing that could possibly help him win votes from border Hispanics, too.


The simple version here is that a big landowner there wants to build a dump to house toxic waste from Mexico in the middle of a floodplain—and poorer local Hispanic residents who live in the vicinity are pissed.

So far as anyone can tell, O’Rourke hasn’t said a peep about this. Neither has Cruz, but it’s Republican consultants who are leading the charge against the landfill and word is that Gov. Abbott is keeping an eye on the situation, while not actively weighing in (yet?).

This seems to be O’Rourke’s problem: Even though a lot of Hispanic voters in Texas are deeply, deeply skeptical of Republicans, they’re not sold on the lefty Irish guy sporting a Spanish nickname. Granted, it’s tough to find top-tier Democratic talent to take on big Texas Republican names like Cruz, but you’ve got to wonder whether an actual Hispanic Texas Democrat would perform better against Cruz, specifically. The likelihood is that Texas won’t actually be a race to watch in November, despite what the mainstream media keeps saying.


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