Rep. Beto O’Rourke made his first visit to Houston as a Senate candidate over the weekend.
Senate hopeful and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke introduced himself to Houston on Sunday as a potential check on President Donald Trump, urging voters to send a Democrat to the upper chamber in 2018 rather than waiting to make a dent in deep red Texas.
The El Paso Democrat – best known as an ex-punk rocker who recently livestreamed a “bipartisan roadtrip” to Washington, D.C. with Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd – announced his bid Friday to unseat hometown U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke, who has little name recognition across Texas, faces a steep uphill battle in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.
His pitch on Sunday focused more on counterbalancing Trump rhetoric and policies than it did ousting Cruz.
“If we want balance – if we want a check on this president – it runs through the Senate,” O’Rourke said, asking hundreds of attendees to picture themselves years from now, trying to answer questions from their children. “‘When you knew what was happening, and you knew what we needed, and you knew what it took, what did you do?'”
O’Rourke, who pledges to refuse contributions from political action committees, appears to have taken a page out of Cruz’s 2012 campaign playbook by announcing his bid early and taking a grass-roots approach.
“I think a people-powered, people-driven, Texas-first campaign is going to make the difference,” O’Rourke said.
He criticized Cruz for helping to shut down the government in 2013 and setting his sights on the White House.
“He shut it down because he put party over country, ideology over the interests of the people he served, and has used Texas for four years as a platform from which to pursue the presidency,” he said to a packed hall at northwest Houston’s IBEW Local Union 716.
O’Rourke named immigration reform, mental health services for veterans, military spending and health care as top campaign issues.
“It’s not a function of what you can afford or what you make or who you happen to work for or where you live or who you were born to,” he said of health care. “It’s a right.”
Here’s a Facebook Live video of the event, streamed by O’Rourke himself because that’s a thing he does. As you can see, the crowd was indeed large – I was unfortunately not able to be there, but my Facebook feed was full of pictures from people who were. Here’s a photo album O’Rourke posted – this picture gives a good view of the crowd size at the Houston event. For all that O’Rourke gets described in stories as “little known”, he’s been generating an impressive amount of coverage for himself so far, in part I’d say for being such an early candidate, in part because it’s Ted freaking Cruz he’s running against, and in part for his self-professed unorthodox approach to how he will run. This CBS News story captures some of that.
O’Rourke does have one thing in common with Cruz: He’s a social media obsessive who believes in the power of the internet to connect directly with voters.
His social media persona is part of his strategy. O’Rourke made headlines last month when he embarked on an impromptu 1,600-mile, 36-hour road trip from Texas to Washington with Republican Rep. Will Hurd after snow grounded their flights. The duo broadcast the bipartisan marathon on Facebook Live.
To follow him on social media is to become familiar with even the most mundane details of the congressman’s life. He’s an avid user of Instagram and Snapchat. On Friday, he snapped his morning run with his dog along the U.S.-Mexico border. Later, he boarded his flight and tweeted a grinning selfie from his middle seat in coach.
O’Rourke boasted that he has more Snapchat followers than any other member of Congress and says he’ll continue to be “the most accountable and transparent person in Congress,” using social media to connect with constituents and voters he would otherwise never get the chance to meet.
But O’Rourke, who once played in a rock band and lived in Brooklyn, plans to take on Cruz directly on the issue of money in politics.
It’s going to be awhile before we have any empirical data to suggest that this race is closer than expected or just another example of false Democratic hope. In the meantime, though, we will be able to use a couple of metrics to see how well O’Rourke is doing by his own standards: His fundraising, especially in terms of small-dollar donors, and his social media followers. Right now, his Facebook page has about 48,000 likes. That’s not a bad number for a third-term Congressman just getting started on a statewide run, but Ted Cruz’s candidate page has over two million likes – running for President will do that for you – and his official US Senate page has one million. O’Rourke is off to a good start, but he has a long way to go. As such, while there has been a lot of positive buzz for Beto O’Rourke, there’s a lot of skepticism as well, as Josh Kraushaar (“it would take an epic Cruz collapse for Democrats to make the race interesting”) and Eric Garcia (“Toppling Cruz Will be a Tall Order for O’Rourke”) demonstrate. Daily Kos and RG Ratcliffe have more.