Political pundits across Texas didn’t waste much time chiming in with their thoughts on what chance Beto O’Rourke has at becoming president.
“It’s no surprise that Beto O’Rourke has entered the race for President — he’ll be joining several fellow Socialists with a message that resonates much better with Democrat primary voters than average Texans and Americans,” said James Dickey, the Republican Party of Texas chairman, in an email.
But Deborah Peoples, Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman (and candidate for Fort Worth mayor), countered: “There is nothing more important to our country’s future than electing a new president who will work every day for the people of this country, not extreme special interests.”
Peoples faces Betsy Price, a fiscal conservative, in the non-partisan Fort Worth mayoral race in May.
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O’Rourke posted a video on social media just before 6:30 a.m. Thursday announcing his candidacy, then started a tour of Iowa with a visit to an Iowa coffee shop.
By the time he stood on a table and addressed the java-slurping crowd in Iowa, the name-calling was under way in Texas.
Republicans rolled out a slew of nicknames. Some called him “Robert Francis,” a reference to his given name. (Beto is a nickname, similar to “Bobby” in Spanish.)
Stories immediately went viral about whether O’Rourke’s dog looked “sad” in a Vanity Fair cover photo, for a story that explored his interest in the presidency.
Tom Wilder, a devout Republican and Tarrant County’s district clerk in Fort Worth, called O’Rourke “NO BORDERS BETO” in an all-caps response to O’Rourke’s Twitter post announcing about his presidential run.
But Democrats are confident that O’Rourke, the El Pasoan who couldn’t even win a Senate race in his home state of Texas, has a legitimate shot at winning the Democratic nomination and possibly becoming president.
Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project — a Democratic political action committee — expects O’Rourke to do well in Tarrant County. During O’Rourke’s Senate run, he beat incumbent Ted Cruz in the county, which is seated in Fort Worth, even though the county has long been considered a GOP stronghold.
Statewide, O’Rourke narrowly missed unseating Cruz.
And now, Tarrant County is considered more of a purple county — a place where O’Rourke could make a repeat performance.
Angle thinks O’Rourke can do even better against President Trump in the 2020 general election than in his 2018 Senate bid, mainly because he appeals to the middle of the political spectrum — rather than the far left or right.
“I think Donald Trump is more polarizing, more damaging and less well-thought-of than Ted Cruz, if that’s possible,” Angel said. “Every negative impulse you can have about a politician, people have times three of Donald Trump. I would expect him to carry Tarrant County.”
But Angle said he expects the Democratic primary in Texas to have plenty of fireworks — and the potential for O’Rourke to run into stiff challenges from other candidates, especially former San Antonio mayor and Obama administration cabinet member Julian Castro.
“First, he has to win the primary, but people are looking past that,” Angel said. “Texas is going to be very competitive in the Democratic primary. You’ve got another Texan in the primacy with Julian Castro, and other capable candidates who will spend money in Texas. He hasn’t competed in a Democratic primary with other candidates working that hard to win.”
O’Rourke’s campaign against Cruz became a match between O’Rourke’s personality and Cruz’s policies. But in the presidential primary, O’Rourke will have to be firmer about his position on issues such as health care and the environment, others said.
With little known about his position on many issues, O’Rourke has a bit of a reputation as a centrist. That won’t appeal to the far left in his party, said Harold Clarke, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“This primary setup now is going to force him to articulate policies, and they’re going to have to be pretty far to the left,” Clarke said.
There may also be questions about whether O’Rourke — who, despite his Spanish-language nickname, isn’t Hispanic — can bring out large numbers of minority voters to seal a victory, Clarke said.
Some other candidates such as Kamela Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey may appeal more to women and African-Americans, he said.