Rolling Stone Magazine calls him “Ted Cruz’s Punk-Rock Problem.” Vanity Fair describes him as “Kennedyesque.” And although several politicians say he’s on a suicide mission, El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s determination to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz has not waivered since he announced he’d run for U.S. Senate earlier this year.
Whether the public believes that a Democrat like O’Rourke could win a statewide seat in a predominantly red state next year or not, one thing is for sure: his crusade is one that is intriguing political experts across the nation. From Texas Monthly to National Public Radio to the music-focused Spin magazine, it seems like every week, there’s a new article covering O’Rourke’s campaign.
In September, Texas Tribune released a video montage of O’Rourke “letting F-bombs fly on the campaign trail” as he traveled across Texas.
“It’s not the right way to talk and it’s embarrassing to me when somebody points out that I’ve used a swear word in a speech,” O’Rourke said about his colorful language after a recent town hall at Del Valle High School. “I’m just always trying to be as honest as I can and just speak in the language I speak in every day, and it just turns out that every day, I cuss too much. I’m trying to reduce the amount of swear words I use if for no better reason than my children, who are obviously listening.
“You didn’t hear me swear once in that town hall, right? I don’t do that anymore – or I’m trying not to.”
The profanity was just one example of O’Rourke’s unconventional campaign approach. Another example that’s been a bigger focus in national outlets is his refusal to take campaign money from political action committees and special interest groups. Despite this, he outraised Cruz this summer at $2.1 million.
As promising as that first fundraising quarter was for O’Rourke, Cruz later outraised him. Political experts said that because O’Rourke won’t take PAC money, it will be impossible to unseat Cruz. Raising more money means a bigger budget towards advertising so that more Texans can know who O’Rourke is and what his stances are.
“You can spend a ton of money making ads and buying time on TV, but I’m sick of that stuff. I hate political ads,” O’Rourke said. “I’d rather people just meet me and like we did right now, ask questions at a town hall, find out who I really am, and more importantly, give me the chance to learn who they are and what they want and what their expectations are of their government. And I think that makes me a better candidate and hopefully a better senator.”
In October, the Texas Tribune and University of Texas at Austin released a poll indicating that 16 percent of Texas voters found O’Rourke favorable while 13 percent found him unfavorable and 69 percent had neither positive or negative feelings about him. On the other hand, 45 percent of voters found Cruz unfavorable while 38 percent found him favorable and 17 percent were undecided.
Despite the odds, many local constituents have confidence in O’Rourke. At the Del Valle town hall, Vietnam War veteran Bill Hart Jr. even referred to O’Rourke as “Senator.”
“Sentator, you’re facing a tough election,” Hart said. “I think you will win.”
Over the years as congressman, O’Rourke has gained fans of all generations, even garnering the attention of millennial-driven outlets like Buzzfeed. One movement he’s helped push alongside conservationists young and old is the mission to protect Northeast El Paso’s Castner Range. His provision to protect the site under the National Defense Authorization Act was approved by the House on Nov. 14 and is expected to soon pass the Senate.
Also noteworthy has been O’Rourke’s use of social media. He gained the attention of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg when he used Facebook Live to live stream a sit-in that O’Rourke and other congressmen held at the House floor last year to demand action on gun violence. And recently, O’Rourke explained why he voted against a tax bill in a Facebook video using chocolate.
But what seemed to gain even more traction was when O’Rourke went on what he and his Texas Republican colleague U.S. Rep. Will Hurd called a “bipartisan road trip” after a snowstorm cancelled their flight to Washington D.C. earlier this year. They live streamed their “cross country town hall,” discussing topics politicians are typically divided over like healthcare and immigration.
While many applauded their camaraderie, some colleagues criticized O’Rourke for it. San Antonio publication Rivard Report reported that James Kane, Democratic chairman of Bexar County, said he and other democrats would not support O’Rourke if he didn’t distance himself from Hurd, to which O’Rourke replied, ““[Hurd is] a good friend of mine, a good legislative partner. If I spend the next 12 months working against the guy, he’s not going to trust me enough to be able to work with me to get things done.”
Some young local voters are on the fence about O’Rourke, including 21-year-old Sarah Glenn, who’s a member of the University of Texas at El Paso groups Young Democratic Socialists and Texas Rising. She criticized O’Rourke during his time as city council member when he supported a plan to redevelop Downtown and one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Segundo Barrio.
“I lived in Waco, Dallas and Austin and I lived in a lot of places where gentrification completely took out the authenticity of those areas,” Glenn said. “He was pushing for gentrification. If he were to make a senate seat, he would make it easier for Republicans and Democrats alike to push that kind of mentality. And at that point, it’s not a partisan issue; it’s a classism issue.
“But I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t vote for Beto for the simple fact that Ted Cruz is a very interesting character and I don’t necessarily support anything that comes out of his mouth.”
Claudia Yoli, who was protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and participated in a round table discussion with O’Rourke about the program, said she strongly supports O’Rourke in the senate run.
“He’s made Washington D.C. accessible through his social media presence, frequent town halls and has engaged in meaningful bipartisan conversations about immigrants and the border,” she said. “I’m a DREAMer, so I don’t have the right and privilege to vote. However, I encourage my friends and family across Texas to vote for him. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that Texas elects a senator that is representative of our true value.”
Does O’Rourke have a plan B if he doesn’t unseat Cruz?
“No, we’re in to win,” O’Rourke said. “There’s no other option.”