Beto O’Rourke made his latest pitch — that he’s the candidate voters should send to the U.S. Senate to represent Texas next year — Friday evening in the heart of north side Fort Worth.
Amid hundreds of potential voters, the El Paso Democrat worked to sway a demographic many say he will need, Hispanics, to stay competitive with incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
“We are going to be in every single county and community, such as the Hispanic communities that have been written off in the past,” O’Rourke said. “We are going to listen and speak in English (and Spanish). Every single person is important.
“Too many people have been taken for granted in a state that’s 50th for voter turnout,” he said. “I feel very good, very confident, about the turnout we will see, including the one in the Latino community.”
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O’Rourke spoke in Fort Worth on Friday night — as the rain poured down and supporters shielded themselves with umbrellas, raincoats and ponchos — shortly after Cruz appealed to voters in Houston.
This fight for this Senate seat, represented by Republicans since 1993, has become more competitive than expected.
It is one of the costliest and most watched races across the country, as many wonder if O’Rourke can do what no other Democrat has done for more than two decades in Texas: win a statewide office.
A new Quinnipiac University poll this week didn’t offer encouraging news for O’Rourke. It showed that Cruz holds a 9 percentage point lead over O’Rourke.
Then early Friday, O’Rourke announced that he raised another $38.1 million in this race, more than three times the $12 million Cruz reported raising in the third quarter.
Friday night’s rally in Marine Park — not far from the historic Stockyards and the iconic Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant — was O’Rourke’s first big local rally in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
Hundreds turned out, despite the rainy evening, to show their support.
“He’s a big supporter of us and wants to give a chance to the dreamers,” said Jose Munguia, a 49-year-old Fort Worth man who brought his wife and two children to the rally. “He wants to give people a chance to stay in the country.
“We feel his support for Latinos,” he said “We support him.”
Turning out the vote
O’Rourke was plain and clear about his message.
“We’ve got to win,” he said. “There’s no other option.”
The north side is home to longtime Mexican-Americans and waves of immigrants who formed new homes in Fort Worth.
The park is also near All Saints Catholic Church, where many immigrants worship on Sundays. It often is a polling site for residents in the neighborhood.
“Beto’s hopes rest on higher Latino and younger voter turnout than in previous Texas elections,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “Both of those groups favor him, and they are both notoriously low turnout groups.
“That suggests both his barrier to winning and his opportunity to win.”
In 2016, about 40.5 percent of Hispanics — who are projected to make up the largest population group in Texas by 2022 — weighed in on the presidential election, U.S. Census data has shown.
That was up from the 38.8 percent who voted in 2012’s presidential election.
But many aren’t voting.
“More than 2.1 million eligible Latinos in Texas didn’t vote in 2016,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The number of Hispanic Texans registered to vote has gone from 665,906 in 2014 to 1.7 million in 2016. These numbers don’t reflect, however, any voters with Spanish surnames who moved out of state since registering, said Sam Taylor, a spokesman with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
The new Quinnipiac poll this week showed that O’Rourke leads among Hispanic voters, with 61 percent, as well as black voters, with 84 percent. Cruz has the edge with white voters, with 69 percent supporting him.
Cruz’s campaign on Friday released a digital ad in Spanish featuring the candidate’s father, Rafael Cruz, who escaped oppression in Cuba and made his way to the United States.
“My son, Ted Cruz, understands that liberty needs to be protected,” Rafael Cruz said on the ad. “Our family has lived the American dream and, as our senator, Ted Cruz will continue to defend it as he has been for the last six years.”
“The Hispanic vote in a state like Texas is important,” said Ron Nehring, a senior adviser with Cruz’s campaign who attended O’Rourke’s rally Friday night.
‘The right way’
State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, rallied the crowd for O’Rourke and said Hispanics are just one of many demographics O’Rourke needs to win.
“He’s doing a lot to get the vote out,” he said. “There’s a lot on Spanish TV. He will certainly get his share of the Hispanic vote.
“I hope Ted Cruz is terribly disappointed at the end of Election Day.”
O’Rourke said he plans to show up and show respect to Hispanic voters — and all voters.
He’s campaigning and making ads in English and Spanish, trying to reach as many voters as possible.
“It’s critical to do this the right way,” he said.
Cruz and O’Rourke, who participated in a Sept. 21 debate at SMU, are scheduled to square off in an Oct. 16 debate in San Antonio. O’Rourke also will participate in a CNN town hall on Oct. 18 from McAllen.
Republicans have said they believe O’Rourke’s election bid “is a serious threat” to Cruz’s re-election.
Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence was in Dallas, campaigning for Cruz at an event closed to the media.
President Trump plans to campaign for Cruz in Texas this month, although he has yet to announce the date and location. And his son already did.
Willie Nelson performed at an Austin concert last month for O’Rourke, who recently gained new celebrity support from Eva Longoria, a Corpus Christi native and former “Desperate Housewives” star.
Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report.