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.