It’s finally official: After months of teasing a follow-up to his sensational — if ultimately unsuccessful — 2018 Senate bid, Beto O’Rourke confirmed to El Paso TV station KTSM Wednesday that he is setting his sights on an even higher office.
“I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” O’Rourke said in a text message to the station. “It’s a big part of why I’m running. This city is the best example of this country at its best.”
Even before his announcement — and the splashy Vanity Fair cover story that directly preceded it — O’Rourke has consistently polled among the top five Democratic candidates. His challenge now will be distinguishing himself in a crowded, and overwhelmingly progressive, primary field. While liberal compared to Ted Cruz, O’Rourke’s voting record consistently placed him among the most conservative 25 percent of Democrats in the House during his three terms.
The news, though, is certain to delight the legions of adoring fans the former Foss bassist collected over the 20 months he spent barnstorming Texas’ 254 counties one-by-one. O’Rourke transformed a lean, DIY operation — just two aides, a rental car and the open road, in its early days — into a juggernaut with some 700 pop-up offices scattered across the Lone Star state.
With cell phone footage capturing almost every moment of his campaign — from Whataburger pit stops to his viral response to a question about NFL players taking a knee — O’Rourke became a social media star. By the end of his bid, the congressman had amassed more than 800,000 followers on both Instagram and Facebook. More impressively, O’Rourke managed to leverage his social media celebrity into cold, hard campaign cash. He eviscerated senate fundraising records, bringing in more than $80 million over the course of his campaign.
That unmatched talent for fundraising, deft understanding of social media and being bilingual to boot had political observers throwing O’Rourke’s name into conversations about 2020 even before election day 2018. In the end, of course, O’Rourke lost his race. That loss, though, appears not to have deterred him — or his backers.
Instead, they have sought to highlight the record number of Texas voters registered ahead of the 2018 race and the fact that Democratic straight-ticket voting was up 157 percent compared to 2016. In a recent appearance at SXSW, O’Rourke noted that a number of Democrats were swept into office the night he lost, including a slate of progressive judges in Houston’s Harris County, 17 black women among them. (He was at the festival to promote a documentary about his Senate campaign called Running With Beto, co-produced by the Obama alumni outfit Crooked Media.)
O’Rourke will enter the race with a direct line to hundreds of thousands of individual donors who gave to his campaign last year. He has used the email list occasionally over the last few months, filing personal dispatches with his thoughts on immigration reform and the prohibition on Marijuana — and invited supporters this past weekend to register to “be first to know about Beto’s 2020 decision.”