Whether he wins or loses his U.S. Senate bid, U.S Representative Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke (D-El Paso) can change American politics dramatically.
The leftwing Democrat may change electoral politics in Texas and the entire country by the way he is running for office. O’Rourke has basically thrown out the rule book for Democratic elections and is doing surprisingly well in a Republican stronghold.
O’Rourke’s latest triumph was to win the March 7 Texas Democratic primary with no help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). O’Rourke received 61.8% of the primary vote – which is a pretty good showing and a vindication of his radical contrarian strategy.
A Democrat who is campaigning like a Republican
The most radical thing O’Rourke has done to is to campaign like a Republican. That is campaigning only to the Democratic base and making no effort to attract centrist or swing voters. This is a repudiation of the standard Democratic strategy of the last 50 years; which was to concentrate electoral resources the message on white middle-class moderate “swing voters.”
O’Rourke is running is an unapologetic leftist; bragging that he received an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), publicly supporting marijuana legalization, and openly pledging his support for single-payer health insurance. The hope is to energize enough members of the left-leaning Democratic base to win a majority at the polls.
The Republicans have been using this strategy for the past 30 years and it has worked pretty well. They now control both houses of Congress, most state legislatures, most governors’ mansions, and the White House. O’Rourke is betting that there is a leftwing majority out there that is big enough to overcome the Republican advantage.
Is there a Left-wing Majority in America?
Polls indicate such a left-leaning majority might exist; around 66% of Americans wanted stricter gun control laws a 20 February 2018 poll from Quinnipiac University indicated. That majority goes across racial and class lines, 62% of white voters with no college degree and 58% of white men supported tougher gun-control measures.
O’Rourke’s tactics run counter to the Democratic establishment strategy of the Median Voter Theorem in which candidates try to please the center and nobody else, The Week’s Paul Waldman noted. Those tactics seem to be working; O’Rourke has been raising more money than incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, he won the primary, and there is evidence more Democrats than Republicans participated in the Democratic primary.
Cruz raised around $800,000 during the first 45 days of 2018, while O’Rourke raised around $2.3 million, National Public Radio reported. The number of people voting early in Texas’s Democratic primary was 105% more than turned out in 2014, The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman Tweeted on March 3, 2018.
Running Against the Democratic Establishment
O’Rourke’s success might start a paradigm shift in the Democratic Party and politics in general.
The three-term Congressman is not taking money from Political Action Committees (PACS) or working with the professional consultants and strategists associated with the Democratic leadership in Washington. Instead, he’s running a Trump-style campaign that’s heavy on personal appearances; visiting 223 of Texas’s 254 counties and raising funds online like U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) did in 2016. Those tactics are working which shows the left has a path to victory and takeover of the Democratic Party.
O’Rourke’s success is problematic for Republicans because they need Texas. It is the second most populous state in the Union with 38 votes in the presidential election. More importantly, Texas is the only state with a large number of electoral votes that the GOP can count on.
Will Texas Turn Democratic?
That might be changing; Hillary Clinton received 600,000 more votes in Texas in 2016 than Barrack Obama did in 2012. Trump was also the first Republican in decades to carry Texas by a single-digit margin 9%. Trump won 52% of the Texas presidential vote to Clinton’s 43%.
There are complicating factors in Texas; in the form of both Cruz and Trump who are unpopular in the Lone State. Some Texas Republicans dislike Cruz for refusing to support Trump at the GOP convention in 2016, and Trump’s immigration and trade policies are unpopular in the border state. Around 45% of Texans disapproved of Cruz; while only 38% of them approved of the controversial Senator, an October 2017 Job Approval Poll from The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin indicates.
A changing electorate in the Lone State favors Democrats. The state features a growing Hispanic population, increasing urbanization, in-migration from California, and growing income inequality, especially in rule areas. A complicating factor is Trump’s anti-Hispanic bias which is souring many Latino voters on the GOP. All these factors help leftwing Democrats like O’Rourke.
The chaotic nature of Trump era politics favors populist insurgents, and O’Rourke is certainly that. O’Rourke still has a lot to prove; he won the March 7 primary but didn’t do as well as some of his fans had expected, Vox reported. That matters little in America’s winner-take-all political system which rewards even a slight majority.
The Center is Dead in American Politics
Conventional wisdom tells us that Beto O’Rourke cannot win in Texas, but that wisdom may no longer apply. Just two years ago, conventional wisdom told us Donald J. Trump could not win the Republican nomination or beat Hillary Clinton in the general election – he did both.
Something else that becomes clear here is that the center is dead in American politics. Centrists cannot win in either party, even in Texas. That indicates the 2018 elections will be closer and nastier and the partisan divide in the country will grow worse.
It looks as if a paradigm shift is occurring in American politics and Texas. One has to wonder how this will affect the national political landscape.