The third time was not the charm for Beto O’Rourke, as the charismatic but flawed former Democratic prodigy lost his attempt to overthrow Texas governor Greg Abbott, leaving his political future in doubt.
Facing Republican headwinds, O’Rourke lost 43.8% of the vote to Abbott’s 54.9%, according to The New York Times, a margin closely in line with the polls, with O’Rourke taking 42.3% lost to Abbott’s 52.7%, according to poll aggregate site RealClearPolitics.
O’Rourke stormed onto the national stage as a harbinger of Senator Ted Cruz, losing by just 2.5% in a race that caught the attention of national donors large and small. But O’Rourke stumbled badly in a short term for president, bowing and endorsing Joe Biden after early energy and fundraising fell through.
The former El Paso congressman was subsequently hampered in the governor’s race not only by a national political climate that favored Republicans, but also by his own comments during a presidential debate that he should be selling people’s AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. take away.
While O’Rourke will certainly take his time before making decisions about his next move, Democrats are already speculating about what he’ll do next and whether he can run again in the future after three devastating, consecutive losses.
Representative Joaquin Castro told: News week that O’Rourke ran an energetic campaign that meant a lot to Texans, and still has a “bright future” in the state.
“Democrats across the state are grateful and indebted to Beto for bringing us as close to victory as in a long time, and it won’t be soon forgotten,” he said. “If he wants to return to office in the coming years, people will appreciate his efforts.”
Ultimately, Castro said, O’Rourke ran into the toughest political “weather” conditions for a candidate — a by-election where your party’s president is in office.
Abel Prado, the executive director of the progressive organization Cambio Texas, texted O’Rourke on the eve of Election Day to tell him, “No matter what happens, we’ve done everything we could, and then some,” he said. he. News week.
O’Rourke replied, “That’s the ghost, from the 956 to the 915,” referring to the area codes for Laredo, Brownsville, and Harlingen, and 915, the area code in El Paso where he comes from.
Prado said on some level that O’Rourke will be fine, as he is married to a “very prosperous family.”
“It’s not like he’s going to have to be on the bread lines anytime soon,” he joked.
But from a political insider perspective, Prado said O’Rourke has “enough data and digital infrastructure to probably open a digital business, which I know his people have spoken to.”
O’Rourke launched Powered by People after he dropped out of the presidential race to focus on the 2022 presidential election, and the group focused on registering and expelling voters in Texas. O’Rourke later launched a voter registration tool called Drive-to-You, which allowed Texans to register by sending volunteers to their homes to help them.
“He could mine those donors for the rest of his life,” Prado argued.
An O’Rourke employee said: News week that they could watch O’Rourke create a vehicle to “jump into the gun control fight” or anything else he thinks would help create Democratic power in Texas.
They said that while some Democrats would like to see O’Rourke succeed Gilberto Hinojosa as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, they do not believe he has any interest in the position.
“Whatever happens, he will take some time off, he will think about it, but he will never leave the fight,” said the source.
A senior O’Rourke staffer said: News week that for much of the election, they would revisit a scene from the final season of the hit HBO show Game of Thrones to explain the big opportunities they thought the campaign was holding back.
In the show, Queen Daenerys Targaryen sent thousands of Dothraki warriors on their horses into the dark night to face the undead army of the Night King. Though the Dothraki host is one of the formidable armies in the world, he is nearly wiped out by the ruthless mass of undead.
“My personal fear was that we would have to face a monster bigger than we realize,” the source said of the Texas electorate that has been heavily Republican for decades.
Republican Mayra Flores’ special election victory in the 34th congressional district also hurt O’Rourke’s campaign as Republicans began spending more money in South Texas, the source said. Flores lost 52.7% to 44.3% on Tuesday to incumbent Democrat Vicente Gonzalez, according to the The Bharat Express News.
“I think that investment made it harder for Beto,” the source continued, adding that the Republicans are great at messaging and have “built a big propaganda machine” with TV ads announcing they were the party of “God.” , Family and Country”. “
For that reason, the Republican pushback in South Texas was “a greater weight to Beto’s work than the previous cycle,” the source concluded.
Artemio Muñiz, the president of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, said he was purely politically intrigued when O’Rourke started his race against Cruz because O’Rourke was skateboarding at Whataburger and he seemed to be drawing inspiration for his logo from the logo of the popular restaurant.
But in the presidential race, he felt that O’Rourke “sold his soul” to the Democratic Party’s national brand.
“That’s a big no-no in Texas,” Muñiz said, adding that if you want to run in Texas, you have to respect the state’s brand, not what donors from New York and California want you to say.
“Texans’ rejection of the Democratic brand is important for Beto to understand if he ever plans to win in Texas,” he emphasized, adding that “you can’t come to Texas and say you can’t buy our AR-15s.” – you have to embrace the values of Texas.”
Victor Leal is the kind of Republican O’Rourke he should win in the future if he ever ran again.
Although he is a former Republican mayor of Muleshoe, Texas, he did not support Donald Trump, and his wife and sons are fans of O’Rourke. When O’Rourke visited Muleshoe this summer, he had lunch at Leal’s Mexican Food Cafe, the family restaurant.
But Leal said O’Rourke lost because the race came down to basic issues like the economy and inflation. He has had to raise menu prices in his restaurant three times as inflation has pushed up his costs.
When asked if O’Rourke could win in Texas, Leal noted that he already lost once during a blue wave year in 2018. He said O’Rourke could use his brand awareness and the goodwill he has generated in Texas. to start his own foundation a kingmaker in the state, which helps the Democrats raise money.
But he sees no other race in the cards.
“I just don’t see a way for Beto,” he said. “At one point, the donor base says, ‘We’ve dug deep into our pockets three times and it’s time to move on.'”
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the president of NextGen America who worked to help elect O’Rourke, looks forward to what Abbott’s new term as governor will mean. She cited the winter break that led to hundreds of deaths in 2021, and mass shootings like the one in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers.
“These are policy failures by our governor that have killed people,” she said News weekand she sees more fear and crushing disappointment ahead for Democrats and progressives in the state.
But despite O’Rourke’s loss, Tzintzún Ramirez said she remains hopeful that the state may change at some point in the future.
“Let’s not forget that the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement was in the Deep South,” she said. “We’ve been through worse, and Texas is the biggest battlefield because those responsible are nothing like the state.”
“We have the numbers to win,” Ramirez added, “and we’re not done organizing yet.”