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Any time a candidate for one office says they will not run in for a different office later, don’t believe them. It’s a pre-election narrative to dispel rumors from their opponents that the first office is just a stepping stone. It also gives a sense of urgency to the candidate’s potential voters. Put me in office now because you won’t get a chance later, or so the story goes.
If anything, someone saying they won’t run for a higher office later is a sure indicator they will consider running for a higher office later. That’s why when Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) said he wouldn’t run for President in 2020 whether he won his Senate race or not, I took it as a sure sign he would definitely run if he did well in Texas. I figured if he got blown away, he was done. If he won the Senate race, he’d probably wait until 2024 if President Trump won in 2020 or 2028 if a Democrat won in 2020.
The only way he’d run in 2020, by my estimation, was if he lost but came close. He lost to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) by just over 200,000 votes. Cruz won in 2012 by over 1.2 million votes.
What I considered the trigger scenario for a Beto 2020 presidential run happened. Now, we’re seeing stories like these:
Sparked by his narrow defeat in a Texas Senate race, Beto O’Rourke is scrambling the 2020 presidential primary field, freezing Democratic donors and potential campaign staffers in place as they await word of his plans.
Even prior to O’Rourke’s meteoric rise, many Democratic fundraisers had approached the large number of 2020 contenders with apprehension, fearful of committing early to one candidate. But the prospect of a presidential bid by O’Rourke, whose charismatic Senate candidacy captured the party’s imagination, has suddenly rewired the race.
Before anyone comes to the conclusion I think I “called it,” I’m acutely aware that I missed Beto by a mile. Yes, I believed that the scenarios were aligned so that a close defeat would propel him to a 2020 presidential bid, but I also had assumed until about a week before the election that he was going to lose by a wide margin. Even on election day I predicted 7.5%. He lost by 2.6%, which in Texas means I missed it by nearly half a million votes. No, I didn’t see the risk he represented properly.
I see it now.
He has three major things going for him that, to me, make him the person to watch over the next year at least.
- He’s the best fundraiser in the nation. Period. For a Senate race, he was able to raise $38 million in the third quarter alone and nearly $70 million total. This is small fries for a presidential run, but the only other Senate candidate to come close was Rick Scott in Florida. The #3 and #4 fundraisers – Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Bob Hugin in New Jersey – were able to raise $63 million combined. If he raised that much for a Senate race, he would be able to easily eclipse Hillary Clinton’s 2016 totals. The only person who is arguably better than O’Rourke at fundraising is Barack Obama, and he’ll surely be helping O’Rourke if he gets the nomination.
- His national appeal is similar to Barack Obama’s. To be more accurate, his national appeal far exceeds Barack Obama’s appeal when he ran for the Senate in Illinois. These are different days so we can’t assume his head start on appeal will translate into more popularity than the former President if he were to win the nomination, but it bodes well for O’Rourke that he’s still getting a ton of attention two weeks after losing an election. At this point in 2016, even Democrats were begging Hillary Clinton to go away. But they haven’t had their fill on Beto yet.
- He has nothing better to do. When the incoming representatives are sworn in next year, he’ll be a free man. Free to hang out in Iowa and New Hampshire. Free to attack Republicans over policies and Democrats over failures. Free to talk to bundlers, strategists, journalists, and voters. While his competition will be sitting in Senate committee meetings or running their business, O’Rourke will be in 2020 mode without having to hide it. Losing may have been a blessing in disguise.
The midterm elections demonstrated opposition to Trump is as rabid as his support. It’s hard to imagine someone as far to the left as O’Rourke winning. Then again, it was hard to imagine him getting over 48% of the vote in Texas.
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