U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Tarrant County is the real battleground in the 2018 race for the U.S. Senate.
He knows the stats: No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994 and that Tarrant County is one of the reddest communities around.
But O’Rourke, a Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for his Senate seat next year, said he will keep coming back here, reaching out to locals and listening to their concerns.
“We have to win Tarrant County to win [Texas],” O’Rourke told the Star-Telegram Thursday night before holding a town hall gathering that drew an estimated 300 people to the Americado on West Berry Street. “As Tarrant County goes, so goes the state.
“But I’m not convinced that Tarrant County is red. I’m not convinced that Texas is red,” he said. “They traditionally have been non-voting.”
And the recent victory in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones surprised many across the country with his upset win over Republican Roy Moore — who faced allegations of sexual assault and pursuing women when they were teens and he was an adult — adds fuel to his fire.
“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t know it was possible,” O’Rourke said during his first visit to Fort Worth since formally filing for the U.S. Senate race. “What Alabama did was show people that it’s possible.”
That may just be wishful thinking, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“In Alabama, Judge Moore was very vulnerable given his past escapades, true or not, and these doomed him,” Saxe said. “[Moore] had been controversial for his judicial edicts and reprimands by higher courts.”
And Cruz — a former presidential candidate whose strongholds have long included the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex — has long appealed to Republicans and others looking for anti-establishment candidates here, in what some call the Tea Party hotbed of Tarrant, Dallas and Denton counties.
“Cruz is an icon among conservatives and they will support him unequivocally,” Saxe said. “No doubt liberals and Democrats would love to see him defeated, but [that’s] not going to occur.”
On Thursday, Cruz picked up an endorsement from Texas Values Action, a conservative advocacy group “dedicated to standing for faith, family and freedom in Texas.”
At the same time, Texas members of the progressive MoveOn.org Political Action group praised O’Rourke’s support for universal health care and his “progressive policy agenda,” endorsing him in the race.
More than half a dozen candidates have filed to run for this U.S. Senate seat — Republicans Cruz, Bruce Jacobson Jr., Geraldine Sam, Stefano de Stefano and Mary Miller as well as Democrats O’Rourke, Edward Kimbrough and Sema Hernandez.
Sharing the stage
O’Rourke is traveling around the state, holding town hall meetings and campaign events, hoping to hear from Texans about their concerns.
During the town hall, O’Rourke — a punk rocker turned congressman from El Paso who was greeted by chants of “Beto” from the standing room only crowd — turned the microphone over briefly to Kim Olson, a Democrat running for Texas Agriculture Commissioner.
She talked about how women can make a difference in next year’s election.
“Women are pissed ... and when we get pissed, we stay pissed for a long time,” she told the crowd. “It’s up to us. This is our time.”
O’Rourke told the crowd that he didn’t know how Democrats can lose with candidates such as Olson on the ballot.
For about an hour, O’Rourke touched on issues ranging from net neutrality to health insurance.
He told the crowd there was one reason the country’s health care program wasn’t repealed earlier this year.
“You stopped the repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
O’Rourke was asked about fracking and said there’s a place for it, but the process must be “regulated, overseen.”
And he noted that Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy and can be in solar energy as well.
He was asked about DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, and CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that has yet to be renewed by Congress and could soon leave nearly 400,000 Texas children without health care.
O’Rourke said Texans have the ability to impact decisions on these and other issues.
“You all have the leverage,” he said. “We fear our constituents. Use that healthy fear [to contact Congress]. ... They listen to you. The phone calls matter.”
And when he was asked about union members – a traditional Democratic stronghold – voting for Republican Donald Trump to be president, O’Rourke said the answer was simple.
“It’s on us,” he said. “Democrats have not been showing up.”