Bud Kennedy

Is Beto Burnout setting in? The house was slow to fill for Fort Worth rally

Beto Burnout might be setting in. But not on stage.

A wide-awake Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke rallied a three-fourths-full Ridglea Theater crowd early Saturday morning, emphasizing four words: “We vote on Monday.”

On the eve of early voting in his 21-month, $61 million campaign for U.S. Senate, O’Rourke barely even alluded to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz but campaigned hard against his familar targets: Texas voters’ cynicism and disillusionment.

As national publications began speculating on a Beto 2020 presidential campaign — one headline reads “Beto O’Rourke Isn’t Running for Senate Anymore” — O’Rourke hewed to his now-familiar hope-and-change themes of inspiration and involvement to motivate a smaller-than-usual rally crowd..

“We are the government,” he told the turnout of about 1,000 mostly Anglo Democrats, a demographic which represents only about 10-15 percent of Texas voters.

“We have the power to stop the things we don’t like.”

His list “the wall, the separation [of refugee parents and children], the Muslim ban, the press as enemy of the people.”

That isn’t every Texan’s list.

But with a caravan of Honduran migrants pushing across the Mexico-Guatemala border and President Trump coming to Houston to lead a Cruz rally focusing on borders and immigration, O’Rourke doubled down on his defense of refugees and asylum seekers.

The Honduran migrant caravan is “a reminder that there is leadership elsewhere that is lacking,” said O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat:

“We can try to solve this at our border, through walls and separation. Or we can make sure that the most powerful country in the world — the most inspiring country in the world — devotes resources, that means time and attention, to those countries in Central America where there is such a level of misery that people would contemplate a 2,000-mile journey, with their kids, risking their lives to come here.

“Something’s wrong over there.”

Democrats: outnumbered, and usually outvoted

Look, it was never going to be easy for a Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas.

The state is about 50 percent Republican, 40 percent Democratic and 10 percent independent.

Even in the mega-turnout campaigns in 2008 and 2012 for President Barack Obama or the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign against populist Republican Donald J. Trump, Democrats never managed more than 44 percent.

Winning a midterm election is even tougher. About 60 percent of eligible Texans vote in presidential elections, but only about 35 percent vote in Senate and gubernatorial elections.

Democrats don’t outnumber Republicans, and haven’t been able to outvote the GOP.

The last year when Democrats were elected to a top office statewide was 1994, led by Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. But the last time Democrats won a Senate or governor’s race was 1990, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams of Midland told a crude joke and then blurted out just before the election that he didn’t pay any income tax that year.

Democrat Ann Richards won, but still only by. 49-47 percent.

Since 1998, the numbers have been embarrassing.. Five forgettable Democratic nominees for governor have drawn 31, 40, 30, 42 and 39 percent. When U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was first elected in 2012, his Democratic opponent was an avd hunter known for helping lead Texas’ education reforms. Paul Sadler still only drew 41 percent.

Party of little help to O’Rourke

O’Rourke already had an uphill climb.

Texas Democrats’ thin party structure is little help.

Asked if the Democratic brand is damaged in Texas, .O’Rourke answered diplomatically that America needs “balance in our government.”

“I have found that political parties in general are not the driver,” he said: “They don’t motivate people. It’s not where the energy is.”

O’Rourke does not appear to be winning. But thanks to his campaign, other Democrats in Dallas and Houston will win seats in the Texas Legislature and maybe in Congress.

I asked him whether that would make him happy.

He thought a second, then shook his head: “No! I’m in this to win.”

Almost two years ago, he started as a little-known Democratic congressman from a distant Texas city on the U.S.-Mexico border.

He might not become a senator. But he is no longer little-known.

Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538 @BudKennedy
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