Beto O’Rourke: Democrats hope for closest race around Texas

Beto O’Rourke: Democrats hope for closest race around Texas

Texas Democratic nominee Beto O'Rourke at a rally in Midland on July 20.Texas Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke at a rally in Midland on July 20. Eli Hartman (AP)

Democrat Beto O’Rourke says punk concerts have always been magical to him. “It was liberating for an odd and misplaced high school boy to be around people who didn’t feel they had to follow trends, who had managed to escape the pressure to conform,” the Texas politician writes in his foreword to ELPASO , a chronicle by the Spaniard Benjamín Villegas about the musical movement in the border town of the eighties and nineties. O’Rourke, who is running for Texas governor in next November’s election, played guitar in various groups in the scene growing up. Among them one named Foss, where he coincided with Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Some time later, while Bixler-Zavala was ushering in the North American indie rock era with the influential At the Drive In, O’Rourke, the son of a wealthy family, ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of the United States in 2020.

There’s still something punky about one of the country’s best-known Democrats. He’s closed the campaign gap he’s gotten himself into, sitting six points behind Gov. Greg Abbott, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average. Texas hasn’t had a Democratic governor in almost three decades, and the impression is that if anyone can pull it off, it’s 49-year-old rebel O’Rourke.

One of his highlights came in May when he interrupted a press conference Abbott was giving in Uvalde, just hours after an 18-year-old boy killed 19 children and two teachers at a school with an assault rifle. “This is your fault, it’s time to stop the next slaughter and you’re doing nothing,” O’Rourke, a former congressman who was in Washington for six years and supports gun regulation, told Gov. In his short presidential campaign in 2020, he proposed that the government ban assault rifles and take them off the streets. The words in Uvalde provoked anger among Republican staffers, who last year abolished the requirement for a carry-arms permit. “You’re a sick son of a bitch,” the conservative mayor of a tragedy-stricken city told him.

“That press conference was a cathartic moment,” says César Martínez, a 25-year-old advertising, media and political marketing consultant. “Time has proved him right because now the Republican notion that there’s nothing better against a bad guy with a gun than a good guy with a gun has been dismantled. There were dozens and dozens of good guys who couldn’t beat the shooter,” said Martinez, who fought for Rick Perry and George W. Bush in Texas.

Martinez believes Abbott, who has been in office for seven years and is seeking a third term, is beginning to lose his lucky stars. Its approval rose from 56% in April 2020 to 43% last June. The idea of ​​renewal is beginning to cross the minds of voters in a state of 30 million people whose electoral dynamics have changed dramatically. Big cities like Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, the capital Austin and El Paso are strongholds of the Democrats. Rural Texas remains deeply conservative.

Beto O'Rourke reprimands Governor Abbott in Uvalde on May 25. Beto O’Rourke reprimands Governor Abbott in Uvalde on May 25. Jordan Vonderhaar (AFP)

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O’Rourke seems called upon to capitalize on the dissatisfaction. And not just because of widespread unease about repealing abortion, which Abbott and his Attorney General promoted banning in Texas long before the Supreme Court’s decision. Also because of the local problem with the greatest impact: disturbances in the power grid. These left four million homes without power in February 2021 and caused 246 deaths during the worst winter storm in state history. O’Rourke admitted that this convinced him to run after two failed attempts when he tried to take the Senate seat from controversial Ted Cruz in 2019, an election he lost by 215,000 votes (2.6%). , and when He fought for the presidency in the primaries.

“The issue of the power grid combines several problems into one: the corruption of state politics and Republican leaders who have received millions of dollars in donations from energy and oil companies that regulate the system and benefit from a model that allows for price hikes. Prices when demand increases, creating an incentive to reduce supply,” said Mike Siegel, a former Democratic nominee for Congress in 2020 and political director of Ground Game, an organization that champions progressive causes like legalization of marijuana, another promise What will O’Rourke do if he becomes governor?

O’Rourke’s life was marked by his return home. The son of a Democratic district judge who later switched sides and an antiques dealer, Robert Francis O’Rourke left El Paso to attend a boys-only boarding school in Virginia near Washington. The young man then made the leap to Columbia University in New York, where he worked various jobs for four years and eventually suffered from depression. He worked in child care, in a moving company and on a website for his uncle Brooks Williams, one of his big influences on his bohemian life and taste in music. One day his mother received a call. “I have to get out of here,” admitted O’Rourke, then 23. His family loaned him money and he started a digital design agency back home.

“I thought I would never go back,” he told the AP in 2019. When he returned in 1998, he found “a reason for being” that he didn’t have in the East. He also found love on a blind date. Amy Sanders had recently arrived in town, and O’Rourke took her to Juárez, Chihuahua, on the Mexico side, to see half of El Paso hidden behind the border wall. Sanders’ father William is a businessman and one of the richest men in the region thanks to the real estate company Jones Lang La Salle he founded. His father-in-law was instrumental in raising funds for his political campaigns, which began in 2005 when he entered the State Council.

O'Rourke declined in favor of Biden after exiting the Democratic primary, drawing criticism from progressive sectors.O’Rourke declined in favor of Biden after exiting the Democratic primary, drawing criticism from progressive sectors ELIZABETH FRANTZ (Portal)

Money is crucial to winning Texas, one of the jewels on the US Electoral Board. In four months, O’Rourke raised $27.6 million, a record. The Democrat has surpassed his rival in donations received, though he claims he has more money in the coffers, 45.7 million compared to 23.8 million, according to the latest report submitted to the local ethics committee.

The funds, Siegel explains, are needed to build electoral infrastructure in democratic cities. “If we increase turnout by 7% in five or six cities, we can get about 30,000 more votes in each city, which could give us a good chance of winning Beto,” he says. The betomania experienced during his Senate campaign prompted 200,000 people to join the Democratic Party.

The key will lie with Latino voters, a population that makes up 40% of Texas. “Especially in the area of ​​the Rio Grande Valley (Río Bravo). A majority of those votes in the last presidential election went to Donald Trump, so Beto, who speaks very good Spanish, should campaign there,” says adviser César Martínez, who believes the (undated) debates will be the big moment for O’ Rourke to reach the Sorpass.

Though the charismatic politician has Democrats dreaming of petting the impossible, Siegel prefers to be cautious. He says experts in Washington estimate Texas won’t change course until 2026 or later, in part because Republican control has allowed them to shift constituencies and make it harder for minorities to vote. “The Republican Party has invested in Texas for 40 years and the Democrats have not. If you look at what happened in Georgia and Arizona (states that recently switched from Republican red to Democratic blue), they are 15-year trials. When did the clock start ticking for us? Presumably in Beto’s 2018 Senate campaign. From this perspective, expecting a win before 2027 is not realistic.

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