The Texas race has a new contender. Beto O’Rourke, one of the best-known figures within the Democratic party with a progressive speech, announced this Monday that he will seek to be a candidate in the November 2022 elections. The irruption of the former congressman and presidential candidate in 2019 ends with weeks of speculation and he turns the contest for the Republican fiefdom into a high-voltage event in the intermissions of next year. “Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening, serving, and trusting Texans … They are focused on pushing extremist policies on abortion, gun permits, or schools, which only divide and separate us further.” said the El Paso politician in the video where he revealed his intentions.
In the message that begins his campaign, O’Rourke says he was convinced to enter the fray in February, when a heavy snowfall seriously affected, and for several days, the electricity grid of a state with 29 million inhabitants. Low temperatures caused plumbing problems, leaving millions without heat and killing at least 23 people. The storm caused a huge crisis for the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, who tried to quickly turn the page by promoting a series of legislation aimed at the hard core of his voters. Among these was the elimination of the need to have permits to carry weapons, the economic reactivation after the pandemic or an initiative to continue the construction of the border wall with Mexico after the departure of Donald Trump from the White House.
Abbott is today the great recipient of O’Rourke’s criticism. The Republican has a long tradition in local politics. He was a Texas Supreme Justice with George W. Bush and later a local prosecutor with Governor Rick Perry. He came to power after winning the 2014 election and reelection four years later. O’Rourke, 49, will have to do a great job to unseat him. Especially in an entity where a Democrat has not won state office since 1994. A recent poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune places the progressive Democrat nine points behind the governor, whose approval has been in negative territory since August. Actor Matthew McConaughey, who has toyed with the idea of running for governor and surpasses the current governor in the polls, remains unconfirmed his aspirations.
One year before the election, there is time to come back for O’Rourke, an electrifying politician who was a bass player in a punk band and has experience as a tech entrepreneur, a sector that enjoys enormous momentum in the Texas capital. He garners much sympathy among Democrats, but causes revulsion among Republicans thanks to progressive ideas such as the legalization of marijuana. 37% of voters have a favorable opinion of him while 50% reject him. The room to grow will be among independents, who do not necessarily identify with either of the two main formations of American politics. Among these, the former congressman from El Paso, a blue oasis in a red bastion, has 22% favorable opinions and 48% negative ones.
O’Rourke is a seasoned politician on the ground. Dressed in a blue shirt and rolled up, campaigns are his natural state. He showed it in the race to wrest his Senate seat from Ted Cruz in 2018. The Democrat started several points behind the Republican senator, but managed to cut the lead. It was not enough. On November 6, 2018, O’Rourke lost the election by 200,000 votes, 3% of the vote. It was the closest election seen in Texas since 1978, when Democrat Bob Krueger lost by 0.5%.
The Senate election made O’Rourke a national character. In March 2019, he joined the 15 Democratic candidates seeking to remove Donald Trump from the White House. Among his proposals was the regulation of weapons, an issue he decided to push after the racist massacre in his hometown, El Paso. In that competition did not appear the attractive figure, similar to a rock star, which gathered hundreds of followers in Texas. The congressman in three legislatures threw in the towel after failing to take off in national polls, where he barely achieved 3% of the support. His departure sparked ridicule from Donald Trump. In March 2019 he endorsed Joe Biden. And today he is preparing to fight a new battle that can set the course for the Democrats in the Administration
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.