Tuesday, August 21, 2018



I still have some wealthy friends from when I was, as Andy Paley always called me, Corporate Howie. These friends are rich but progressive. I had lunch with 4 of them the other day and they said they'd like to do a fundraiser for Beto O'Rourke. Running in Texas-- with all those media markets-- costs a fortune. When Ted Cruz ran in 2012, he spent $14,031,864-- mostly in the Republican primary. Democrat Paul Sadler spent $510,439. Cruz won with around 57% of the vote and Sadler barely cracked 40%. So far this cycle (at least as of June 30), Cruz had raised $23,365,836 and Beto brought in $23,332,950. So my friends proposed during a high-dollar fundraiser fro him on the West Side. They said t it would be a six figure night. That's a big deal. I called Beto. Thanks but no thanks; I'm staying in Texas. Smart move. And except when he absolutely has to go to DC to vote of something important, he's in Texas, Texas, Texas, spending his time talking with people who sometimes say they haven't seen a Democrat since LBJ or Ann Richards. "In June," wrote Anne Petersen, "he completed a tour of all 254 counties in Texas before heading right back out on the road to do it again. The campaign proudly employs no pollsters or traditional consultants; until very recently, they’ve rejected the traditional wisdom of focusing money on television advertising. They reject PAC money, even from Democratic funding sources. Instead, they lean heavily on small donations, first-time donations, and Facebook, where livestreams from the campaign trail regularly attract between 20,000 and 80,000 viewers."

He's working it and he's working it hard: "You’ve got to work to sweat! Ted Cruz don’t sweat like Beto does!... [Beto's] energy is palpable, infectious; his sweat is the physical evidence of that energy leaving his body. And it seems to be working." He's pulled even with Cruz in the polls. I even saw one last week that had him two points ahead!

Blue America first endorsed him in 2012 when he ran against entrenched status quo Democrat Silvestre Reyes in El Paso. In a 5 person primary, Beto avoided a runoff by beating Reyes 23,248 (50.5%) to 20,427 (44%). This cycle he decided to take on Cruz and we endorsed him again. On Sunday Anne Petersen did an exhaustive piece, Beto O’Rourke Could Be The Democrat Texas Has Been Waiting For, on the bet Beto is making that grassroots energy can beat corporate dollars. During an event in Texas Hill country, long a Republican stronghold, she wrote that "By the time O’Rourke reaches the peaks of his stump speech in Kerrville-- advocating for better treatment of Texas’s teachers, arguing for universal health care, and decrying family separation at the border-- his shirt is full-on stuck to his back, and the crowd feels ready to ignite. When he announces that he hasn’t taken any money from PACs, instead raising $10.4 million (with an average donation of $33) to Cruz’s $4.6 million over the last quarter, the audience explodes."

A politician’s stump speech has the same effect as a good sermon. For those who already believe, it reenergizes the faithful. But a truly great stump speech also appeals to the skeptic-- and provides moments of near-spiritual conversion. That’s what a Beto O’Rourke speech does. It makes people believe: believe that the country doesn’t have to feel the way it does right now, that people who think differently can still have a conversation, that you can be conservative and vote for a candidate without an “R” beside their name. While we’re 30 years removed from the election of a Democrat like Ann Richards to run the state-- current governor Greg Abbott is a hardline conservative-- a Beto O’Rourke speech makes people believe that a Democrat can win a major statewide race in Texas again. And these believers can help make it happen.

...[Beto's] campaign philosophy is appealing, but it’s also contingent on the idea that the more people who hear O’Rourke’s message-- no matter how red the county, no matter how rural-- the more they’ll spread it for him. Yet the campaign faces a daunting reality: To win, O’Rourke has to spread that Beto message in a way that doesn’t just energize Democrats and attract moderates, but activates millions of voters-- many of them black and Latino-- who, for years, haven’t felt compelled to vote in Texas, either out of apathy or a feeling of futility.

That’s a problem that afflicts most of Texas, and flummoxes Democratic organizers. If everyone in Texas voted, the state would almost certainly swing Democrat. But not everyone in Texas votes. For midterm elections, barely more than a third cast a ballot. O’Rourke uses that low turnout like a motivating club: The state is 47th in the nation in voter turnout. The implicit instruction: It’s up to all of you to make us better.

O’Rourke may actually be the once-in-a-lifetime candidate his supporters claim he is. He has a distinct presidential aura, and there’s a certain romance to his campaign, as Frank Bruni recently put it in the New York Times, that has earned him an ever-increasing national following. “There’s a reason people compare him to a Kennedy,” Sam Hatton, who’s running a scrappy campaign for the Texas House District 71, told me. “And it’s not just those Kennedy teeth.”

...Like so many other blue-wave candidates across the US during these midterm elections, O’Rourke must convince nonvoters that voting actually matters-- that they have the capacity to change their own lives and the lives of those around them. Texas is an enormous and varied state, and one that-- no matter how purple its political demographics might seem-- still votes red. How many shirts must O’Rourke sweat through to win its heart?

...Back in 2012, Cruz, then an insurgent tea party candidate, won his Republican Senate primary by doing exactly what O’Rourke is doing now: crisscrossing the state, visiting even the smallest of towns. Texas conservatives generally prioritize preserving small government, “Christian values” with a focus on abortion, and the Second Amendment. Cruz’s tea party politics convinced them he was their man. But in the Senate, he became infamously unlikable, known for being smarmy and condescending; he wasted time with dead-end legislative proposals and, true to his debater roots, loved to grandstand. Cruz spearheaded the 2013 shutdown of the government over the Affordable Care Act. He antagonized Democrats and his own party: During Cruz’s unsuccessful bid for president in 2016, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham famously quipped, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Back in Texas, Cruz seems to have developed a reputation, especially among disenchanted conservatives, as a pompous politician who doesn’t really care about the state. “They hate him in Washington,” one Abilene woman who’d voted for him in 2012 told me. “So how’s he supposed to get anything done?” Multiple people criticized his use of his Senate seat as a stepping-stone to the presidency. Others told me that, well, they just didn’t like his face. And then there’s the way he’s kowtowed to Trump-- recently asking the president to campaign for him in Texas-- even after Trump disparaged Cruz and his wife, and insinuated Cruz’s father was party to the assassination of JFK (he was not).

If O’Rourke were running against a more beloved, or even likable, GOP incumbent, the race would likely not be as close as it is. But he’s not running against a likable conservative. He’s running against Ted Cruz. “I don’t think people are energized around the Democratic Party,” Hatton told me. “I think they’re energized around justice. And people around here? They just want a reason to not vote Republican.”

...O’Rourke adds that he was just reading Lawrence Wright’s new book God Save Texas, which explores the cultural and political past, present, and future of Texas. “I just read the passage where it talks about how LBJ was actually responsible for more liberal legislation than JFK,” he said. “Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, all that big-time, like, FDR-style stuff.”

“Remember how that person in Del Rio asked ‘How socialist are you gonna be?’” O’Rourke says, pulling ahead of a string of cars with Beto stickers, all headed toward Johnson City. “A while back, we were in this small town in West Texas, and someone talked about how Lyndon Johnson and FDR established the Rural Electrification Administration. That’s an idea that really comes from Texas populism-- that we’re gonna figure out how to do stuff that big business doesn’t see a profit in, or that small towns can’t do on their own.”

Two days before, in the tiny town of Iraan, O’Rourke had responded to a question about health care access in small towns by connecting it to the Rural Electrification Act-- it’s one of his favorite talking points. Back in 1936, the federal government provided federal loans to expand electricity to thousands living without it, effectively modernizing rural life across the state. It wasn’t a profitable enterprise-- the cost of extension outweighed the revenue from new customers-- which is precisely why government intervention was needed. “It’s not profitable for rural hospitals to come in here,” O’Rourke said. “But it’s necessary if we’re going to take care of each other. It’s one of the things that government is for.”

“I’ve been a registered Republican all my life,” the president of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce told a sweaty group of around 500, packed under live oak trees at a swanky winery off the highway. “Welcome!” came a yell from the crowd. “But I’ve never voted along party lines. I’ve always supported candidates based on their positions on the issues. And it was an easy choice for me to support Beto.”

When O’Rourke took the stage, he went over the same points about LBJ we’d discussed on the drive over: “We may be the ones to lead over the next six years,” he said. “Remember it was Lyndon Baines Johnson who declared a war on poverty. It was Lyndon Baines Johnson who shepherded through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And it was Lyndon Baines Johnson who ensured that those who had worked every single day of their lives could look forward to a retirement where they could be healthy and live a life of dignity through the Medicare program.”

At this point, his cadence started speeding up, shifting into a kind of football locker room rallying cry. “What if, in this state-- and these other folks don’t know their history, they won’t see it coming from us-- what if we led the way to ensure universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care for every American in every single part of this country? What if we led the way?” The crowd clapped through the entire second half of the message: for O’Rourke, but also for the idea that a vote for him could return the state, and its citizens, to their progressive, populist roots.

...If O’Rourke makes it to the Senate, it will be, at least in part, because voters just flat-out dislike Ted Cruz. But he’ll also owe his victory to those 10,000 volunteers and those millions of energized voters. As the 2016 election demonstrated, most Democrats don’t just want to feel political alignment with a candidate, they want to be enthralled. O’Rourke has generated so much enthusiasm and harnessed so much hope around him, and inspired the incredibly romantic idea that Texas could once again be, if not blue, then at the very least purple-- that things could be different. In that way, he’s not unlike another young, first-time, long-shot Senate candidate who grabbed the national imagination a decade ago.

That energy is different from what collected around Trump’s campaign in 2016, which was, and remains, rooted in exclusion: the idea that only some people deserve the freedoms and opportunities this country, at its best, can offer. The O’Rourke energy-- and that of the blue wave, generally, is about inclusivity: in the identities of the candidates running, in their messaging and policy positions, and in the attempt to get more, not fewer, people to vote.

Of course, national energy and support can only do so much to move the needle in a statewide race. In previous elections, the people who do reliably go out and vote in Texas have voted conservative. And Cruz knows it: At the Republican State Convention, he told a state senator that “November is about one thing: Turnout, turnout, turnout.” As longtime Texas political analyst R.G. Ratcliffe elaborated, “the party that does the best job of whipping up its base will win.”

Right now, that seems to be O’Rourke’s party. Their primary turnout (1 million) was less than the Republicans (1.5 million), but 27% of those who voted in the Democratic primary had not voted in the last two midterm primaries. “That suggests there are a lot of Democrats who usually don’t turn out for midterm elections who might be inspired by their anger at Trump to show up at the voting booth in November,” Ratcliffe explains. Still, for O’Rourke to win, he needs to take the rhetoric of inclusion and expand it into strategy, creating a coalition of voters who, even if their views line up with Cruz on abortion and economics, can’t abide the rest of what he and Trump stand for.

Objectively, it shouldn’t be this hard for a Democrat to win this race. O’Rourke shouldn’t have to sweat through this many shirts. But voter apathy is not a uniquely Texan problem-- and no candidate can persuade every potential voter to believe that their participation matters. What I saw on the ground, then, was O’Rourke’s best attempt to tailor his appeal to so many different types of Texans, including, especially, ones who don’t fall into the neat categories of Republican or Democrat. His message: You matter. Your town matters. Your problems matter. And to convince them, he didn’t alter his own message so much as alter the way he conveyed that he has been listening to their worries all along.

On the stump across Texas, it certainly feels like the “election of our lifetimes” that O’Rourke likes to evoke. The stakes feel so much higher than this one political office. At its heart, his campaign is less about vanquishing Republicans than regaining what had once, accurately or not, felt like the core of our national identity: that we are a country of decency, a place where people care for one another. For supporters of O’Rourke or any of the dozen other candidates hoping to make up a “blue wave,” taking back the House-- or the Senate-- has become a tangible means of returning to that understanding of who we are as Americans. Within this understanding, if O’Rourke wins, some piece of that identity will be redeemed. But what about the very real, even probable, chance that he loses?

For thousands of O’Rourke’s volunteers, people who told me that their political lives began when they woke up on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, this is their first campaign. When they wake up after Election Day, if their candidate has lost, will those political lives and the energy that fuels them be over? It’s easy to convince people to fight a battle. It’s much harder, and requires a different sort of endurance-- from both leaders and those who support them-- to try to win a war.
Goal ThermometerThe thermometer on the right is all about helping progressive Texas candidates raise money. Getting Democrats out to vote is likely to help other Democrats running in November, particularly Democrats who are working their asses off and making sure voters in their districts know what they stand for and what they want to do for working families. Yesterday, one of Texas' best congressional candidates, Mike Siegel, who's taking on Michael McCaul is a gerrymandered district stretching from the exurbs of Houston into northern Austin, reminded me that he had been on the road with Beto. "I joined Beto for a town hall in Katy, Texas, about ten days ago, when over 1,100 showed up in a town that has a 'red' reputation. Local activists could not remember there being a gathering of that many Democrats in Katy, ever. It was a great opportunity for my campaign-- as a warm-up speaker, I was able to share my message, and sign up dozens of new volunteers. And it was a great opportunity for me as a candidate-- to hear Beto and his stories from the campaign trail, to observe his inclusive way of responding to questions. And to soak in his vibe: essentially, Beto's campaign is a love-letter to Texas, to all 254 counties and our diverse histories and perspectives.
"In the general election, I've distilled my message to two goals: protecting our safety net and restoring common decency to our government. The second point often resonates more strongly than the first. We are hungry for human decency, for discourse, for optimism and hope. And as candidates, we make that possible by showing up, in person, and connecting with voters in a human way. In my campaign, I've showed up to meetings in places like Brenham and Hempstead and Brookshire, Texas, and folks are amazed to see a Democratic nominee for Congress. At Beto's town halls, hundreds of people attend who are Republican and independent, but who are drawn to the inclusive atmosphere. He says, 'don't y'all know I'm a Democrat running for United States Senate?' And they say, 'we haven't seen a Democrat here in forty years, we wanted to see what one looks like.'

"What is happening this year in Texas is much different than a few years ago, when Wendy Davis ran for governor. She was an inspirational individual, but didn't have support up and down the ticket. This year, strong Democratic candidates are challenging for just about every seat, and at the same time the grassroots is stepping up. There's a lot of optimism in the air. We've just got about 80 days of hard work left to do."
Houston area progressive Dayna Steele told us that she's "been running on common good since day one early last year. Healthcare plus education equals jobs is resonating in the traditionally 'red' district that extends from the suburbs of Houston to the Louisiana border. And, I have an incredible team over the almost 8,000 square miles reaching voters not traditionally touched by Democrats (or anyone for that matter) and the response has been incredible. It is very exciting to be running in one of the reddest districts in the country for all the right reasons. To be on the ballot just under Beto, is the icing on the cake."

Dayna and Beto in Liberty, Texas August 12

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At 5:36 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

That BuzzFeed piece got a few things wrong, by omission or commission. https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2018/08/beto-is-trending-first-national.html

At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beto might be good. He might be doing it the right way. He is obviously better than ted cruz.

but it's still FUCKING TEXAS! How can anyone be optimistic about a state that could elect ted fucking cruz... more than once?

and remember that scummer will still be senate "leader" and will be the sole decider about what happens and also what never happens.

At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, 6:19. there are some good progressives running, but The Party!

Jimmy Dore has a great video of Nancy Pelosi. All she can talk about is how much money she raises. Not a word about how she is going to take power back from the Republicans and what she'd do with it.

The Party needs a Come To Texas Jesus Meeting.

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless Beto is a scion of the Kennedy family, the imagery used is despicable. Let him earn such association, if he can and will.

Those Kennedys (plus MLK) are probably the last real liberals; democrats that I don't despise for being utterly corrupt, spineless shitstains.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

The worst possible thing that could be done for Beto is to compare him to Barack Obama, whose sellout even before he took the oath of office has made his name anathema in minority communities. The last thing he needs is to be equated with a man who broke every promise he made.

At 9:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We don't know whether Beto WILL be more like a Kennedy or the 'crappiest 'crap this side of the Clintons. That's the point.

Let him earn the imagery first.

But all senate democraps will serve at the pleasure of scummer. So maybe that imagery would at least be honest, if not appealing.

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, we'll never know. Beto is already polling well behind cruz... and it *IS* fucking texas. He's going to lose by less than others have... to TED FUCKING CRUZ(!!)... but in the 'craps' mindset, that's the same as winning.

it's trophy for showin' up time again.


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