LAS VEGAS — The ghost of Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign is blocking his path to the Democratic Party nomination for president.
Democrats in Texas and across the country were thrilled with O’Rourke’s close, but unsuccessful, finish last year against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. Somebody made a documentary about the contest. The process set in motion O’Rourke’s bid for the White House, and for a brief period he was near the top of the polls.
But since his launch for president, O’Rourke has heard a drumbeat inside and outside of Texas that’s gotten louder as his presidential prospects have dimmed.
Many Democrats still want him to run for Senate.
”I would love for Beto, if his numbers don’t improve, to run for Senate,” said Gloria Corden, a retiree from Las Vegas.
That feeling is not constructive for O’Rourke, who’s trying to get voters to view him as a presidential contender, not a foil for incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.
Even though he’s ruled it out, O’Rourke is asked about running for Senate during media interviews and some campaign stops. It’s sometimes whispered by folks waiting for him in the photo line.
His answer: “I’m in this thing until the very end.”
“We’re focused on this race,” O’Rourke said at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “I want to be president of the United States. I want to serve this country in that capacity.”
That’s been his refrain from the start, but some Democrats still view the former El Paso, Texas, congressman as a Senate candidate. With few big moments in his presidential bid, many of his supporters lean on memories of his historic Texas campaign.
That campaign, when it got rolling, received intense media coverage and made O’Rourke a star. His presidential campaign, in some instances, has been more obscure.
O’Rourke pondered running against Cornyn, but opted to run for president because he thought it was a better fit. He sees President Trump as the source of most of the nation’s problems, and beating the incumbent president in 2020 would have more impact than knocking off Cornyn, with whom he worked with when he was in Congress.
The El Paso Democrat, perhaps, wondered if the excitement that came with his race against Cruz could be duplicated against Cornyn.
After his announcement for president, O’Rourke was featured in a Vanity Fair article in which he stated: “I’m just born to be in it.”
But is he better constructed for a Senate race?
The dream of O’Rourke running against Cornyn has also impacted the actual contenders in the Democratic race for Senate, a signal that they have yet to captivate the Democratic Party base.The largely unknown top candidates are also fighting O’Rourke’s Senate candidacy ghost, as well as a theory that former San Antonio mayor and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro will get out of the presidential race and challenge Cornyn.
Castro, like O’Rourke, says he’s not interested in running for Senate.
At an October gun violence prevention forum in Nevada, some Democrats expressed excitement about the diversity of the Texas Democratic candidates for Senate, though few knew their names.
Democrat and Nevada state Senate candidate Elizabeth Becker conceded that she wanted O’Rourke to run for Senate, but has since accepted that he’s better off running for president.” I, for a long time, to be completely frank, really wished he’d just run for Senate,” Becker said. “But then I talked to some people in Texas and they told me about all of these amazing women running for that Senate, so I don’t want him to go back and challenge them.”
O’Rourke agreed that his party had good choices for a Senate nominee.
”The field of candidates seeking the nomination to run against John Cornyn is incredibly strong,” O’Rourke said in Austin. “It’s extraordinary.”
O’Rourke advised the Senate candidates to, “Never watch what you say” and “Speak from the heart.”
Sound familiar? O’Rourke doesn’t want to run for Senate, but until the December filing deadline passes, Democrats won’t stop discussing the possibility.
Gromer Jeffers Jr. is a political writer for The Dallas Morning News.