If you thought Betomania was over when the Democratic congressman lost his Senate bid to incumbent Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, you'd better think again.
Beto has gone nationwide.
With praise coming in from everyone from Beyoncé to former President Barack Obama and the Texas representative hinting at a possible run at the White House in 2020, Beto O’Rourke has become the cause célèbre among Democratic donors and activists around the country - and looks to shake up what already promises to be a crowded field of Democrats challenging President Trump.
Mikal Watts, a San Antonio-area lawyer and Democratic money bundler, told Politico recently that several donors and political operatives from the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa have contacted him about O’Rourke’s possible White House bid.
“They’re not wanting to sign on to other presidential campaigns until they know whether Beto is going,” Watts said. “And if Beto is running, what good progressive Democrat wouldn’t want to work for Beto O’Rourke?”
Watts added: “I can tell you that there has not been this kind of level of electric excitement about a candidate since” Barack Obama ran in 2008.
The comparison between Obama and O’Rourke has been going on since the latter first shook up Cruz’s reelection bid in Texas, but has amplified since the midterm elections when O’Rourke barely lost to his Republican opponent 51 to 48 percent. Besides out-fundraising Cruz to the tune of $70 million, O’Rourke’s stature and closer-than-expected performance has been credited with handing victories to at least two Democrats over House Republican incumbents in the largest red state on the map.
Obama, who burst onto the national scene as a senate candidate in 2004 with his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, has himself drawn parallels between the two politicians.
Speaking on his former strategist David Axelrod’s “The Axe Files” podcast earlier this week, Obama called O’Rourke an “impressive young man.”
“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizeable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant," Obama said in response to one Democratic donor saying O’Rourke was “Obama, but white.” ““We've got a number of people who are thinking about the race who I think fall in that same category.”
According to a recent poll conducted by Politico and Morning Consult of prospective Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, O’Rourke already places third behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Along with those three, a number of other candidates are rumored to be considering presidential runs, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
O’Rourke promised on the campaign trail earlier this year that if he were to lose to Cruz, he would be heading back to represent his Texas district and not mulling running for president.
But supporters and critics alike have been looking for signs from him that that may not be the case.
In a recent post on Medium, O’Rourke discussed a cold jog he took in Washington D.C., but the article quickly veered away from running the streets of the capital and more into possibly running for president. One part in particular, where he quotes Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, fanned flames the most.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” O’Rouke quotes Lincoln in the post.
Betomania may be sweeping the nation’s Democratic circles, but not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. That’s especially true in what will be a crowded field where mega-donors are looking to place their money with the best candidate.
“It’s naivete, it’s political suicide to do that,” one bundler told Politico about supporting one candidate over the other so early in the race.
Others, however, see O’Rourke as the perfect foil to go up against Trump in the 2020 race as he could nicely bring both sides of the divided Democratic Party together: He appeals to the older crowd and can raise huge amounts of money, while also exciting the younger progressive base of the party.
“People across the country just fell in love with him,” Christian Archer, a San Antonio-based Democratic strategist, told Politico. “He was able to raise national-level money, and that’s just such a distinct advantage.”
Archer cautioned though that “There’s a fuse on that, and the question is how long will that last if he doesn’t make a move within a window of time.”