Democratic activists in Iowa and New Hampshire welcome the vanquished Texas candidate with open arms.
Beto O’Rourke dodged a bullet. The Texas congressman came dangerously close to beating Ted Cruz on Tuesday.
Lest his groupies wallow for long in defeat, they should know there’s a lot for them to like about his loss: No getting bogged down in the drudge-work of a freshman senator in the minority or obligation to fulfill his duty to serve out his term.
And, to O’Rourke’s credit, there was no blowout, a fate that would have extinguished his star. Indeed, he showed an unapologetic liberal could compete and almost win in Texas.
O’Rourke’s narrow loss to Cruz instead sets him up to run full time for president — and jump immediately into the top tier of Democratic contenders.
O’Rourke has not yet indicated his intentions, but he has built, in the course of a few short months, a national brand and a national fundraising base that few Democrats can match. Conveniently, the chief knock on O’Rourke’s campaign, that he embraced staunchly progressive positions that played poorly in Texas, only heightens his appeal in a national primary for a Democratic Party that has been tacking leftward.
Even after beating O’Rourke, Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, stands impressed. “The Democrats don’t have anybody like him,” Roe said. “I’ve seen all of them. They don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa in 453 days.”
As it happens, O’Rourke’s barnstorming campaign style, which took him to every county in Texas, is the same retail-intensive approach that has traditionally worked in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Rick Santorum famously won the 2012 Republican caucuses after visiting all 99 of Iowa’s counties in a pickup truck, a feat O’Rourke matched this year in Texas’ 254 counties with the aid of rented minivans.
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