Beto O’Rourke Apparently Running for President

The Texas Congressman has decided to forgo another Senate bid and instead focus his energies elsewhere.

Dallas Morning News (“Sources: Beto O’Rourke won’t challenge John Cornyn for Senate, paving way for presidential bid“):

Beto O’Rourke has decided not to run for U.S. Senate next year against Texas Republican incumbent John Cornyn and likely will announce a campaign for president soon, people close to the former El Paso congressman told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.

Numerous people close to O’Rourke said they expect him to announce his presidential campaign within weeks. O’Rourke on Wednesday wouldn’t reveal his political plans except to say he has made up his mind.

“Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country,” he said in an exclusive statement to The Dallas Morning News. “We are excited to share it with everyone soon.”

Since his close but historic loss to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in November, O’Rourke has been weighing how to “best serve the country.” His political options have been to run for president or against Cornyn.

Should he decide on a White House run, O’Rourke would join a large Democratic Party primary field. He’s behind much of the field in fundraising, developing an organization and getting in front of voters.

A December Des Moines Register poll showed O’Rourke trailing only former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination for president. O’Rourke finished first nationally in a straw poll conducted among members of the progressive group MoveOn.org.

But since then, candidates including Sen. Kamala Harris of California have risen in the polls and appear to be getting traction in early battleground states like Iowa.

“It seems like his star was fading,” said University of Iowa political scientist Tim Hagle. “That would be because he’s not in the news.”

O’Rourke became a national sensation during the race, mostly because of a viral video, and seemed poised to knock off the hated Ted Cruz. While he fell three points short of that goal, it was still an impressive performance for a Democrat in a state that’s still quite red if trending more purple.

Still, Cornyn would have been a more formidable opponent. He’s simply much more likable than Cruz. Plus, President Trump will presumably be on the ballot for re-election and bring out more Republican voters.

But winning the Democratic nomination out of an incredibly crowded, talent-rich field may be an even steeper hill to climb. This is the first cycle in a long time without either a prohibitive frontrunner or a popular President keeping A-listers on the sideline. Joe Biden is incredibly popular but he’s 76 and would turn 78 the month of the election. Bernie Sanders (77) and Elizabeth Warren (69) also have near-universal name recognition but are not only vying for the same part of the base but widely considered to have missed their window in 2016. There is also a wave of youngish Senators and Governors already announced or expected to join the fray. And let’s not forget the strong possibility that Hillary Clinton (71) will make a third bid and immediately join the top tier.

It’s also not fully clear where O’Rourke stands on the key issues likely to be at the forefront of the primaries, notably Medicare-for-All, a $15 minimum wage, and the so-called Green New Deal. Overall, he seems to be a moderate, left-of-center politician—which is what one would expect from a Democrat viable in a statewide race in Texas. But that’s likely not what Democratic primary voters are looking for.

While it seems to matter less in the age of Trump—or even Obama—than it once did, O’Rourke’s resume is hardly impressive by Presidential standards. He has only been in the House for six years and, so far as I can tell, has made little impact there legislatively. He has no executive experience to speak of. Aside from a role on minor Armed Services subcommittees, he also has no defense or foreign policy experience.

That said, one would think a relatively moderate Democrat with a real chance of carrying Texas’ electoral votes would be a real asset for Democrats in a contest against Donald Trump. His youth, charisma, and ability to think on his feet would be a stark contrast in the debates. But Democrats could be forgiven for thinking that they can win with a more ideological candidate who would more aggressively push to reshape the political landscape.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Color me skeptical of the prospect that a relatively young Congressman whose most recent political race ended in a defeat would be a real contender for his party’s nomination or the Presidency. (And yes I know this is a description that would fit Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln is an exception to a few electoral rules that have largely proven true over the years.)

  2. Jax says:

    Well, I’m semi-pleased. I’ll wait til it’s officially announced before I start doing the happy dance and donating any money. I suspect in the end he will end up being more of a vice-presidential candidate, but as crazy as times are right now, you just never know what’s gonna happen.

  3. Kylopod says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Skepticism is appropriate, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re living in a very precedent-shattering era where the norms of what’s considered sufficient experience for a presidential candidate aren’t what they used to be. Both Obama and Trump—in very different ways—made that clear.

    Even though he did lose the Senate race, it was the best showing for a Democrat in Texas in decades (since Lloyd Bentsen’s last reelection in 1988). It was a far more impressive electoral feat than Obama’s gimme against Alan Keyes in Illinois.

  4. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Color me skeptical…

    Donald Trump is currently President. Donald effing Trump. The least qualified, utterly uncredentialed, amateur-hour bumbler the imagination can conceive. He won the Electoral College vote in a landslide.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    The election of Trump lowered the bar to the point where you now need a backhoe to hope to get that low. Beto soars miles above the Trump bar.

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  6. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl:

    He won the Electoral College vote in a landslide.

    The 15th smallest EC victory in history, approximately the same as Kennedy’s in 1960, is a “landslide”? Since when?

  7. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    I appreciate your election geek cred, but at times you’re a pedant.

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  8. Kathy says:

    My thinking is he doesn’t think he can beat Cornyn, or even make a good showing against him (or that another good loss is not good enough, which seems far more likely).

    So instead he may run for president and maybe snag either the VP spot (Texas!) or a cabinet post, or maybe lightning will strike.

    And there’s the Cheeto factor. Beto isn’t ready to be president, but he’d be like ten times better than Trump. That’s what you get when the bar is set so low.

  9. @de stijl:

    He won the Electoral College vote in a landslide.

    No he didn’t. His win was incredibly narrow and, as another commentator notes, roughly equivalent to JFK’s close win over Nixon in 1960.

    If you want an Electoral College landslide you need to look at Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Bush in 1988, LBJ in 1964, Nixon in 1972, or any of FDR’s wins.

  10. Gustopher says:

    It’s also not fully clear where O’Rourke stands on the key issues likely to be at the forefront of the primaries, notably Medicare-for-All, a $15 minimum wage, and the so-called Green New Deal. Overall, he seems to be a moderate, left-of-center politician—which is what one would expect from a Democrat viable in a statewide race in Texas. But that’s likely not what Democratic primary voters are looking for.

    What Senate are we likely to have in 2021? The legislative agenda will be mostly bound by the 51st most progressive Senator, and all those issues require legislation. Beto is likely to the left of that Senate, so he’s fine.

    Polling has previously indicated that Democratic primary voters were ranking electability over any issues. Electability is a fuzzy word, but I think it’s safe to say that the candidate will matter a bit more than the issues for a lot of people. Beto is very likeable.

    He seems like a long shot based on his resume but he’s also one of the very few white men running, and the only one under 70 with a national profile. That might end up counting for a lot.

  11. de stijl says:

    You were skeptical of O’Rourke’s chances. I pointed out that Donald effing Trump is currently President. That was the point – that your skepticism would be valid in 2015, but no longer is.

    Okay. Trump won a largish EC victory despite being ludicrously unqualified. Happy?

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  12. Franklin says:

    I think it’s okay that he’s white, male, straight, and smart. It’s not a requirement that we have a new identity every 4 or 8 years. After a long drought, our country just had two Presidents elected in a row that broke new ground, isn’t that enough to ask for now? First we broke the racial barrier – no longer can black people say they can’t lead our country. Then we broke the intelligence barrier – no longer are imbeciles forbidden from the highest office.

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  13. James Pearce says:

    I understand why Beto is running for president, but he’s listening to some bad advice. Make another Senate run. Run for governor. Get some more experience relevant to the presidency.

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  14. Moosebreath says:

    @James Pearce:

    For once, I actually agree with you. The Presidency is not a position where I want on the job training.

  15. Matt says:
  16. Todd says:

    If Beto really is running, he’s going to be the candidate who has to win Iowa. He also needs to somehow vault ahead of Joe Biden (assuming Biden runs) in both early primary and national polls … sooner rather than later.

    Despite the inordinate number of Democrats who say they are running right now, ultimately by this time next year the list of those with a realistic chance of getting the nomination will probably consist of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and either Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke. Then after California it will likely be down to Bernie and whichever of the other two comes out of it in the best shape (I’d bet on Harris).

    In short, Biden and Beto should probably be talking, since it appears that both want to run, but both also have some reservations … and only one of the two is likely to still be around by the time we get to the big shows in California and super Tuesday next year.

  17. just nutha says:

    What I wish is that people seeking elective office would say what they mean and mean what they say. Secretary Clinton said the next office she wanted to run for was grandma. Trump said that he supported gay and trans rights. Beto said that he was going to devote his time to his family while his children were young and needed the contact.

    They’re all liars. I’m tired of liars. Especially liars who lie about family and social policy matters.

  18. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The problem is that Democrats need good Senate candidates more than more Presidential candidates, as people are pointing out.

  19. Tyrell says:

    Beto has the appearance of the typical high school preppie. Since he is from Texas, he needs to dress and act like it. And he needs to show up at some of the games: Longhorns and Cowboys. It would help if he is seen in Jerry Jones luxury suite at Cowboy Stadium.
    I happen to like my insurance plan. Some of the Democrats who are running are saying “too bad, you have to take what we give you”. I say too bad to them. That is not the Democrats I remember.

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  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    Sorry, not feeling it for Beto. Probably running for VP.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: We get it, Tyrell. You want the old fashion statesman Democrats like Robert Byrd. The Klan Democrats; not these modern uppity women ones.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Get some more experience relevant to the presidency.

    Well, certainly George W. Bush’s stint as the governor of Texas didn’t make him a better president than his immediate successor who did not possess the same experience as Bush…

  23. John430 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Beto” and Elizabeth Warren are an ideal ticket for Democrats. A fake Indian and a fake Hispanic.

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  24. Kylopod says:

    @John430:

    “Beto” and Elizabeth Warren are an ideal ticket for Democrats. A fake Indian and a fake Hispanic.

    Then wouldn’t they be ideal to take on a fake president with fake hair?

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    No one is as dumb as Pud who truly believes that Kim Jong Un did not know what happened to Otto Warmbier.
    Love really is blind.

  26. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    Skepticism is appropriate, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re living in a very precedent-shattering era where the norms of what’s considered sufficient experience for a presidential candidate aren’t what they used to be.

    This. When Trump was elected, I wondered out loud if the Democrats would need to nominate George Clooney to win next time…

  27. SC_Birdflyte says:

    He needs to put in some time in another elective office. I can already hear the Trumpkin choir tuning up: “He’s inexperienced! Look what happened with Obama!”