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Beto O’Rourke is quickly becoming a national figure for Democrats

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O'Rourke
Rep.
Beto O’Rourke has a realistic shot of defeating Republican Sen.
Ted Cruz in November.

William
Philpott/Reuters


  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke is quickly emerging as a
    national figure for the Democratic Party at a time when it’s
    struggling to find a clear leader and overcome its somewhat
    stale image with voters nationwide. 
  • O’Rourke is running against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in
    Texas in one of the most-watched races in the
    country. 
  • O’Rourke is
    drawing massive crowds
     along the campaign trail, and
    polls show he and Cruz are separated by only a
    single-digit margin
    .
  • The Democratic congressman recently went viral after
    defending NFL players who kneel during the national anthem,
    giving him a new level of exposure.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke is quickly emerging as a national figure
for the Democratic Party at a time when it’s struggling to find a
clear leader and overcome its somewhat stale image with voters
nationwide. 

O’Rourke, 44, who represents Texas’s 16th Congressional
District and has generally been a low-profile member of Congress,
is now at the center of the most-watched Senate race in the
country as he seeks to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

The El Paso native has a realistic shot of handing the Democratic
Party a victory this November in a state it has habitually
struggled to win over. And he’s running against one of President
Donald Trump’s closest allies in Congress. 

O’Rourke is
drawing massive crowds
 along the campaign trail, and
polls show he and Cruz are separated by only a
single-digit margin
.

The ‘punk-rock Democrat’


Beto O'Rourke
Rep. Beto O’Rourke was
once in a punk rock band.

Loren
Elliot/Reuters


O’Rourke, who was virtually unknown until recently, has seemingly
come out of nowhere and is rapidly winning over voters in Texas
with his energetic campaign. His charisma and the ease at which
he engages with voters have led some to describe O’Rourke
as “Kennedyesque.”

Though O’Rourke is not exactly a household name, he isn’t a total
political novice. He ran for El Paso City Council in
2005 and served for two terms before running for Congress and
winning in 2012. 

The Texas congressman’s full name is Robert Francis
O’Rourke, but he has gone by the nickname “Beto” since he was a
kid.

“Beto” is a common Mexican nickname for people named “Roberto,”
and some conservatives, including Cruz’s campaign, have attempted
to
portray O’Rourke as pandering to Latino voters
with such a
name, given that he’s of Irish descent.

But it’s notable that O’Rourke is fluent in Spanish in a state
that borders Mexico and has a large number of Latino voters.
Comparatively, Cruz, who is the son of a Cuban immigrant and was
born Rafael Edward Cruz (taking on the nickname “Ted” as a kid),
has admitted his Spanish isn’t
as good as he’d like it to be

As a young person in El Paso, O’Rourke became enamored with the
punk rock scene, eventually joining a band and moving to New York
City for a time. This has led some to label O’Rourke the
“punk-rock Democrat.”

O’Rourke is an anti-Trump progressive

O’Rourke is a progressive Democrat who has championed policies
such as legalizing
marijuana
, talked about wanting to curb the influence of
corporate money in Washington, refused to take PAC money, and
characterizes health care as a “basic human right,
not a privilege.”

The Democratic congressman has been highly critical of Trump’s
approach to immigration, especially the “zero-tolerance” policy
that resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant families
at the US-Mexico border. 

O’Rourke also
called for Trump’s impeachment
after the president’s
controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in
Helsinki, Finland in July, but has
since walked this back
.  

In Congress, O’Rourke has served on the House
Committees for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs, and has
focused heavily on
improving health care for veterans

O’Rourke’s viral moment

O’Rourke recently went viral after he
defended NFL players
who kneel during the national anthem to
bring attention to police brutality and systemic racism.

When questioned about it by a veteran at a campaign stop,
O’Rourke said, “Non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of
this country are watching these games, they take a knee
to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to
ensure that we fix it. That is why they are doing it.”

O’Rourke added, “I can think of nothing more American than
to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your
rights, any time, anywhere, in any place.”

The Democratic Senate candidate’s speech, which went on for
nearly five minutes, was widely shared across social media.

O’Rourke was broadly praised for his remarks, which gave
him a new level of national exposure. 

O’Rourke has some political experience but not viewed as
part of the establishment

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset win over Rep. Joe
Crowley earlier this summer in New York was undeniably momentous
and widely viewed as yet another sign
voters fervently desire new blood in Washington
.

Ocasio-Cortez’s underdog story and tenacious but amicable
demeanor immediately charmed people across the country. The
28-year-old became an
overnight superstar for Democrats
 and was labeled

the new face of the party
.

But after stumbling in several interviews in the wake of
her big win, Ocasio-Cortez has acknowledged she still has

much to learn about how to do the job
.  

O’Rourke, who has similar policy positions to Ocasio-Cortez but
has more political experience, could be arguably a more natural
figure for the Democratic Party to lean toward as it remakes
itself in the Trump era.

After spending over half a decade in Congress, O’Rourke has the
advantage of being fairly seasoned and familiar with Washington
without being widely viewed as linked to its corruption and
elitism.

At a time when voters are rebelling against establishment
politicians, candidates like O’Rourke and Ocasio-Cortez could be
the new model for Democrats in their fight to take back Congress
and the White House from the GOP.

O’Rourke could breathe new life into the Democratic Party

Texas hasn’t seen a Democrat win a statewide election in over 20
years, and it’s been roughly 30 years since a Democrat has won a
Senate seat in the Lone Star State.

If O’Rourke defeats Cruz in November, it will be a shot of
adrenaline for the beleaguered Democratic Party, which is
desperate to make up for 2016’s devastating loss by shattering
the Republican majority in Congress in November’s
midterms. 

In this context, a victory could also push O’Rourke to the
forefront of national politics and position him to rapidly rise
in the ranks of the party.

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