AARON BENNETT: It is impossible to begin this series with anyone other than Beto O’Rourke– the electric youngin’ challenging Ted Cruz for his Senate seat in Texas.
To set the scene, the last time Texas sent a Democrat to the Senate was Lloyd Bentson’s reelection in 1988. Donald Trump won Texas decisively by 9 points – and the state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1976. 25 of the 36 members of their congressional delegation are Republicans. It is, by all metrics, a Republican stronghold.
That’s what makes Beto’s breakthrough candidacy so stunning and why he has launched into the national spotlight. On September 21, Cook Political Report changed the race’s rating from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up,” indicating that through sheer force of will and personality, Beto has transformed the long-abandoned Texas into a legitimate battleground for Democrats.
So who is Beto O’Rourke? Born Robert Francis (sound familiar?) O’Rourke, Beto is a handsome Irish Catholic (sound familiar?) congressman from El Paso, Texas running in a national-profile race in his mid-forties (sound familiar?). The parallels to Bobby Kennedy – who, full disclosure, is the political figure I most revere – are uncanny, and they extend beyond just his biography. His messages are packaged in the language of Catholic social thought, establishing the “dignity of work” as a central pillar of his candidacy and approaching our broken immigration system on a moral plain.
Since he announced in March 2017, Beto has visited all 254 counties in Texas, a monumental accomplishment and a testament to his willingness to win this on the back of his work ethic alone. He threatens to go viral any time he speaks, with videos of his impassioned defense of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling and his 55,000-people packed rallies garnering millions of views online. And it certainly helps that Beto has raised a record-breaking $40 million– amazingly, without the help of any Political Action Committees or corporate donations.
Most importantly, I think, he’s as authentic as they come. He sweats through his shirts during rallies, speaks off the cuff, and never fails to electrify a crowd. His energy, his language, his tactics – it is clear that it’s all driven by his deep devotion to public service. It is clear that he intends to meet, listen to, and connect with every single person he seeks to represent, while unafraid to lead on controversial issues despite meeting those with whom he disagrees. He doesn’t need to say he wants to represent the poor and working classes; his approach and his character exudes that message. Unlike most politicians, he approaches politics from a moral plain and with an eye toward creating the greatest good.
Beto is the real deal.
If he doesn’t win in November, look for him to take a serious look at running for president in 2020. He’s starting to look, sound, and feel like the upstart Barack Obama with the heart and soul of Robert Kennedy. I couldn’t imagine any better – or more sorely needed – combination to lead the country out of the darkness.