Obama World lovefest for O’Rourke is growing
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is inspiring aides and allies of former President Obama, who say they could support him if he decides to run for president in 2020.
The Obama allies are quick to point out similarities between O’Rourke, 46, and the former president, who was 47 when he was elected to the White House.
Both are political upstarts with unusual names who seemingly came out of nowhere and inspired thousands upon thousands of people to be part of a movement.
In many ways, say the Obama supporters, O’Rourke is a 2020 version of their former boss.
“That ability to make people feel invested in his campaign and his story does remind me of Obama ‘08,” said David Litt, who served as a speechwriter in the Obama White House. “You see the crowds and the enthusiasm, the kind of movement that isn’t about me but about us.”
Litt, the author of “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years,” said O’Rourke, like Obama, is the kind of candidate that inspirers staffers to go the extra mile.
“They wanted to put in an extra shift or make a dozen phone calls on his behalf or talk to their neighbors because they really believe in him,” he said. “And even when he came up short, everyone felt like they had achieved something great. There are very few people who can inspire that kind of sentiment.”
Another former Obama aide said O’Rourke, even after losing his Senate bid, has energized the party like no one since the former president.
“The party hasn’t seen this kind of enthusiasm since Obama,” the aide said. “There isn’t one other potential candidate out there that has people buzzing. And that’s exactly why people supported Obama and why they’ll support Beto.”
Dan Pfeiffer, the former senior adviser to Obama who now co-hosts the popular “Pod Save America” podcast, penned a piece for Crooked Media on Monday that made the case for why O’Rourke should run.
“I have never seen a Senate candidate — including Obama in 2004 — inspire the sort of enthusiasm that Beto did in this race,” Pfeiffer said, adding that if O’Rourke were to run, “he would be one of the strongest candidates in the field.”
“Millions of people already believe in Beto O’Rourke and that moment for them and him, may be upon us,” he concluded.
Obama himself has commented on O’Rourke’s potential candidacy.
“Impressive young man who ran a terrific race,” Obama told David Axelrod, the chief strategist of his 2008 campaign, during a taping of “The Axe Files,” which airs on CNN.
“What I liked most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested,” Obama said. “It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly, it’s not.”
Obama stopped well short of an endorsement ahead of a Democratic presidential primary that could include former Vice President Joe Biden. “We’ve got a number of people who fall into that same category,” he added.
Still, Obama supporters were encouraged by the former president’s effusive comments about O’Rourke.
“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant,” Obama said. “What I oftentimes am looking for first and foremost is, ‘Do you seem to mean it?’ ”
People at the top echelons of Obama World have been careful about weighing in on their preferred choice for 2020.
Valerie Jarrett, the president’s former senior adviser who is also close to Michelle Obama, has quietly indicated she’d like to see former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) enter the race. So has David Simas, the CEO of the Obama Foundation. Axelrod also goes way back with Patrick.
Others in Obama World have loyalties to Biden and are waiting to see if he decides to run.
Yet it is crystal clear that Obama allies have taken notice of O’Rourke’s meteoric rise from little-known politician to Democratic rock star and can’t help but see a resemblance to the last Democrat elected president.
Litt said he realized O’Rourke had struck a chord with voters while he was on a book tour in Italy in September.
“All these Italians kept asking me, ‘Can Beto win in Texas?’ And I was like, ‘How do you even know this person?’ ” he recalled.
Philippe Reines, the longtime adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said both men “inspire a genuine excitement,” though he said Obama may be “tougher.”
Like Obama, O’Rourke has fundraising chops. He broke a fundraising record when he raised more than $38 million from July through September earlier this year for his Senate campaign.
“Come March 31 and especially June, people are going to be weeded out on the inability to raise funds,” Reines said. “Conversely, superstars will be confirmed by money. He’ll crush it. I mean, crush it.”