The End Of Betomania

Beto O'Rourke's campaign for President is going nowhere fast and he has only a small amount of time to stop the slide.

Last year, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke was the star of the Democratic Party. Not only was he challenging Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but he was polling much better than anyone could have possibly anticipated. As a result support and money from Democrats around the country hopeful that he could pull off the unlikely feat of beating Cruz poured money and other resources into the state. While O’Rourke ultimately fell short, he remained a star in the party and it wasn’t long before there was talk about O’Rourke entering the race for President. After taking what seemed like an excessively long period of time to ponder the idea, O’Rourke entered the race in March and, at least initially seemed to be doing rather well.

It didn’t take long, though, for things to start going wrong. O’Rourke, who had never polled much above 4th place in national polling began to slip. Now, he finds his campaign slipping and in danger of collapsing entirely:

Beto O’Rourke’s once-promising presidential campaign has well and truly hit the skids.

The Texas congressman, whose performance at the first Democratic primary debate last month was widely judged as lacking, is enduring a run of bad polling and fundraising news that puts him in a precarious position ahead of the second round of debates, which are in two weeks.

A poll of New Hampshire voters released on Monday by Saint Anselm College showed O’Rourke trailing the top contenders with a less-than-ideal zero percent. The pollster is little-known, and New Hampshire may not be the linchpin of O’Rourke’s strategy. But other surveys don’t paint a much prettier picture: Recent high-quality Iowa polls show O’Rourke at 2 percentand 1 percent, while Real Clear Politics’ national polling average puts him at a paltry 2.3 percent.

Perhaps just as troublingly, O’Rourke’s once-prodigious fundraising numbers have cratered. The campaign released its second-quarter numbers on Monday, showing that it had raised only $3.7 million over that period, compared to $6 million on the very first day of O’Rourke’s candidacy, and $9.4 million over the first 18 days. (O’Rourke developed a reputation as a fundraising machine last year, when he raised an eye-popping $80 million in his bid to unseat Senator Ted Cruz.)


The O’Rourke campaign’s operational stability also appears shaky; the New York Times reports that “some of the senior advisers from his 2018 Senate run have departed,” and that “while some candidates had assembled what amounted to campaigns-in-waiting as far back as 2018, Mr. O’Rourke is still building out the top level of his operation; a national press secretary and a national policy director only came on board in recent weeks.”

Since he announced his candidacy in Vanity Fair in March, O’Rourke has struggled to stand out from the enormous Democratic field. He has never quite been able to shake early perceptions that his campaign was substanceless and desultory, despite the raft of progressive policy proposals coming from his campaign in recent weeks, as well as his attempts to frankly reckon with America’s — and his own family’s — past. He has largely ceded the “charismatic new face” lane to South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg. And now, he needs a miracle, or at least a dynamite debate strategy, to rescue his presidential aspirations.

Chris Cilizza at CNN, meanwhile, notes that the so-called ‘Beto Boomlet’ that began last year has gone bust:

O’Rourke’s performance from the time he formally entered the race on March 14 is best described as listless. He seems like a man without a plan, lost amid a sea of more knowledgeable and more aggressive rivals. (The beatdown he took on immigration at the hands of former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro in the first debatecemented that impression for many people.)

Yes, it is still early in the 2020 race. (There are 202 days until the Iowa caucuses.) But O’Rourke’s trend line since he got into this thing is straight down. He needs a major moment sometime soon. If he doesn’t make one, his fundraising will continue to drag and staying in the race will look like a more and more difficult proposition.

The fact that O’Rourke is not seeing the stardom of 2018 carry over into the 2020 campaign isn’t entirely surprising. To be frank about it, the main reason he was receiving so much attention last year, and why he was able to raise as much money from around the country as he did, is precisely because he was performing well against one of the most disliked members of the Senate and there were hopes that he could unseat him. Now, he’s running for the Democratic nomination against a stable full of candidates that are more experienced than he is, better known than he is, and, in many cases, better campaigners than he is. He’s also competing for basically the same bloc of progressive voters as such better-known figures as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. Finally, his lackluster performance in the first debate, especially when he went head-to-head with former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, likely did a lot to expand the doubts about him, his campaign, and his viability as the party’s nominee in a race against a street fighter like Donald Trump.

There’s still time for O’Rourke to turn this slide around, I suppose, but it’s going to require him to bounce back in the next debate with a stronger performance and finding a way to show supporters and undecideds that he can be a viable candidate. If he fails to do that then his campaign is likely to slip even further into irrelevance. The odds of this happening, though, seem slim. This is why many Democrats seem to believe that it would have been a smarter political move for O’Rourke to have stayed in Texas and challenge Senator John Cornyn in 2020 instead of running for President. For better or worse, though, O’Rourke rejected that option and appears intent on staying in the race for President. If he really wants to make a difference in 2020, he’d be wise to reconsider his options.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Someone else who thought he could get into higher office on a nice smile and enthusiasm and nothing else. Yeah, try to get yourself into a lower position, show that you know what you’re doing, put all the necessary hard work into play, and THEN go for the higher stuff.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I never bought this guy for a minute. He had a nice run against the loathsome Ted Cruz, and good for him. Now he should go back to Texas, decide what he wants to be when he grows up, build an organization, be part of turning Texas blue.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    He is failing to clear the first hurdle of running for president: convincing people you have something unique to offer.

  4. Liberal Capitalist says:

    With apologies to the Guess Who…

    He’s come undone
    He didn’t know what he was headed for
    And when I found what he was headed for
    It was too late

    He’s come undone
    He found a mountain that was far too high
    And when he found out he couldn’t fly
    It was too late

    It’s too late
    He’s gone too far
    He’s lost the sun
    He’s come undone

    He wanted truth
    But all he got was lies
    Came the time to realize
    And it was too late

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Sort of reminds me of Phil Gramm’s run for Prez and it is working out as well.

    I do believe that this disastrous run for president has likely also ruined any chance that he may have had to beat Cornyn.

  6. Paine says:

    Yea… it’s great that he made that buzz in the senate run but he came across as a complete lightweight in the debate. He should go back to Texas and fight for progressive policies there…

  7. Teve says:

    There’s a feminist meme that goes around social media, something like “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” 🙂

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Ouch! That’s gonna leave a mark. What ever happened to the whole “I’ma devote the next few years to being there for my two daughters” stuff, while we’re asking questions? It’s almost as though that’s becoming code for “‘shhhhh! I’m trying to be stealthy here!”

  9. Matt says:

    The other day I saw a beto bumper sticker with another sticker overhanging it saying “just not as president”…

  10. Scott says:

    @michael reynolds: He could be a perfectly fine Senator if he just took on Cornyn. I voted for him against Cruz but I don’t seem as President material without some more time. Certainly would’ve voted for him against Trump but then, as the saying goes, I would vote for the Yellow Dog before Trump.

  11. al Ameda says:

    This is not surprising.
    Based on what I’ve seen since his Texas run, he’s not been impressive.

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    Beto became popular because people thought he would oust Cruz. Like numerous other Democratic Presidential candidates this year (and Republican candidates in 2016), he thought a brief burst of popularity and a fairly minor bit of experience would be enough. But he didn’t have any identifiable policy positions (like Warren) or a carefully crafted public image (like Harris) or strike people as particularly brilliant (like Mayor Pete).

    Time for him and about a dozen other people to drop out.

  13. Ken_L says:

    There’s still time for O’Rourke to turn this slide around, I suppose

    No. No there isn’t. Thank God. Live streaming his bowel cancer test would not have been pleasant.

  14. Guarneri says:

    I’m thinking $10 bucks for that silly skateboard prop at the pawn shop. Maybe $15 for the sneakers……. but the laughs that progs actually took him seriously? Priceless.

  15. Neil Hudelson says:



    Apparently you didn’t read the article nor the comments, nor paid much attention to Beto’s race in 2018. I know, I know, reading is hard! Your pretty little brain balks at comprehending more than 3 sentences, so let me help you:

    1. This article is about how Beto has very little support. In a Democratic primary. Whose voters are more likely than not to be progressive.

    2. Not only is he getting very little support, that’s been true since his entry into the race.

    3. Cruz won by 16% in 2012 and (IIRC) 2.5% in 2018. Are you saying Texas is nearly 50% progressives now? Wow! That’s gotta be worrying for you, huh? If not, that means that, well, it wasn’t progressives supporting O’Rourke, but good ol’ fashioned real ‘mericans in Texas.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Being fair, a lot of the pr0-Beto vote might have simply been simply anti-Cruz, too. Which is another thing that Guarneri probably isn’t aware of, certainly. Still, I wish he sounded less like he’s trying a bad comedy club act out on us. If his comments are some look into the shape of his new career, he needs to go back to greenmailing or whatever is was he did while he was “a captain of industry.”

    (TL/DR: Not a good look, Drew. 🙁 )