I CAN THINK OF NINE JUST OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD: On what planet is Beto O’Rourke not a presidential contender, even if he loses?
In little over a year, O’Rourke has built a thriving political movement in the country’s second largest state, with a strategy built purely on hustle, grassroots organizing, and his hunch that the standard-issue campaign playbook met its final demise in 2016. O’Rourke has raised over $23 million so far, all from small donors and a lot it from out of state. But his campaign money hasn’t gone to television ads or consultants. It’s gone to online advertising (Sanders’s digital firm, to be precise) and a T-shirt vendor in Austin tasked with pumping out thousands of heather gray “Beto for Senate” shirts. He’s Spanish-fluent and hails from a border city, El Paso, in a moment when immigration has become the hottest-burning political issue in the country. And at a time when Americans view politics through their mobile screens, O’Rourke passes the ever-fetishized “authenticity” test by a mile. That’s partly because he has a habit of sharing almost every moment of his day, from his morning runs to his burrito lunches, on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook. But it’s also because, so far, O’Rourke doesn’t appear to be performing a version of himself. Nothing feels practiced. The voters I spoke with in East Texas all said the same thing when I asked why they liked him: he seems “real.”
And that seems to be O’Rourke’s defining characteristic. It’s not ideology that’s carrying him as much as relatability.
That worked for Obama in 2008, to whom O’Rourke is being endlessly compared. But Obama had at least won a few elections (albeit sketchily) before running for President against a huge, weak field — plus the completely unrelated Hillary Clinton.