O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold

Rep. Beto O’Rourke has caught fire with the Democratic base and media pundits, but not everyone is sure he’d be the best candidate to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE in 2020. 

Skeptics of the Texas lawmaker include those who think his politics run too far to the left for a general election, to those who want a Democratic standard-bearer who is not a white male, to those who think it’s just a bit early for someone who lost a Senate race in Texas to run for president. 

Several of the most prominent would-be contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are senators, and as a result, Democratic senators are understandably leery to handicap the 2020 field.

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In addition, lawmakers don’t want to draw fire from the base by openly criticizing a rising star who has generated so much enthusiasm among donors and activists.

But lawmakers aren’t jumping on the O’Rourke bandwagon, cautioning that a lot can change in politics over the course of a few weeks, let alone over the span of a year until the Iowa caucuses.

One Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to comment frankly on O’Rourke’s political stock, said that while he is popular with activists and the Democratic base, he may be too liberal to win a general election. 

“I think he’s charismatic,” the senator said. “But the interesting thing to me is that when you look at Arizona and Texas, Trump won the two states by the same amount. Both states have gone about 30 years without electing a Democrat to the Senate. In Arizona, [Democratic Rep. Kyrsten] Sinema ran [for Senate] as a moderate. In Texas, Beto ran as a progressive. She won, he lost."

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBudowsky: Biden or Beto: Where's the beef? Super Tuesday bonanza raises stakes for Dems Whatever happened to nuclear abolition? MORE did better in rural Texas than Beto did,” the lawmaker added. “He’s a shiny new object.”

O’Rourke won a scant 26.6 percent of the vote in the state’s 172 rural counties while his opponent, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke raised .1 million from over 128,000 donors on campaign's first day O'Rourke on Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 'We don't have the best negotiating partners on either side' O'Rourke: 'I think we can win Texas' in 2020 MORE (R), won 73 percent of the vote in those counties — 3 points better than GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar MORE did against Obama in 2012.

But O’Rourke outperformed Obama statewide by 7 points by turning out more votes in urban areas.

O’Rourke’s loss, in itself, is one reason cited by Democrats skeptical he is their best candidate for 2020.

“If Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeRepublican strategist predicts his 2020 Dem primary final four The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Kamala Harris: Voters want president who can prosecute 'the case' against Trump MORE wants to go and run for president, God bless him, he should put his hat in and make his case. But he lost. You don't usually promote a loser to the top of party,” former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told MSNBC last month.

O’Rourke scored a coup by winning over Louis Susman, a major fundraiser for Obama, to his camp, but other Democratic power brokers question whether the young political star has enough heft.

Democratic fundraiser Gary Hirshberg told CNN, “I don't just need someone who can rock a rally ... I'm looking for somebody who demonstrates executive prowess and deep substance.”

Many admire O’Rourke’s charisma and political skill. The Texan has drawn quick comparisons to Obama, who won a Senate race in 2004 and then the Democratic presidential nomination four years later. 

In O’Rourke’s case, however, some want to make sure he’s not going to flame out.

“Remember that Barack launched at the national convention in Boston, went back to win the Senate seat in Illinois [and] served two years here,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (Ill.), one of Obama’s earliest supporters, said of Obama’s rise to power from 2004 to the start of the 2008 presidential campaign. 

Durbin said O’Rourke “brings a lot of charisma to the quest, as did Barack,” but added he still has a lot to prove. 

“The jury is out,” he said. 

If he does run for the White House, O’Rourke will first have to beat a number of Democrats in the primary, including several of Durbin’s colleagues. 

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses Pollster says 'it's certainly not looking good' for Trump ahead of 2020 Big Tech is not the enemy, Sen. Warren MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses RNC says it raised .6 million in February Pollster says 'it's certainly not looking good' for Trump ahead of 2020 MORE (I-Vt.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses Republican strategist predicts his 2020 Dem primary final four Chicago mayor race mirrors national push for more women in office, says columnist MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses Citizens lose when partisans play politics with the federal judiciary Booker opens up about relationship with Rosario Dawson MORE (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight Trump faces political risks in fight over GM plant MORE (D-Ohio), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJ.J. Abrams, Shonda Rhimes to host Kamala Harris fundraiser Warren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses Pollster says 'it's certainly not looking good' for Trump ahead of 2020 MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand shows off 'just trying to get some ranch' t-shirt Rubio to introduce legislation to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight MORE (D-N.Y.) are all contemplating White House bids. Many of them have strong relationships with lawmakers and other political heavyweights in Washington. 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSanders, Ocasio-Cortez back 'end the forever war' pledge Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ White House pleads with Senate GOP on emergency declaration MORE (D), who last month won a tough reelection in Montana, a state Trump carried by 20 points, said his friend Booker would be a formidable candidate. 

O’Rourke will have to win over some members of that political class to capture the nomination over not only the members of the Senate expected to run for the White House, but also other possible candidates such as former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenPollster says 'it's certainly not looking good' for Trump ahead of 2020 Republican strategist predicts his 2020 Dem primary final four The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

O’Rourke, who is in his third term in the House, has less political experience than a figure such as Biden, who last week said he was the most qualified person to be president. But Democrats aren’t sure that is really a hindrance. 

“The field is wide open. I don’t know that the electorate is looking for 30 years of federal experience. People asked the same questions of Barack Obama,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThe fear of colorectal cancer as a springboard for change Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds The Hill's 12:30 Report: O'Rourke jumps into 2020 fray MORE (D-Conn.). 

O’Rourke served for six years on the El Paso City Council before being elected to the House in 2012. Before then he co-founded an internet services company and worked as a community activist. 

Murphy doesn’t think it’s a problem that O’Rourke is a white man seeking his party’s nomination, but he also doesn’t think Democrats have to pick a man just because a woman, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Trump's approval rating stable at 45 percent Kellyanne Conway: 'I think my gender helps me with the president' MORE, lost to Trump. 

“Donald Trump is a force of personality. You need to have the right personality profile to go up against Donald Trump,” he said. “I don’t think it matters what race or gender you are. It matters whether you’re a good enough pugilist, it matters whether you’re authentic, it matters whether you have a restorative capacity.” 

O’Rourke wins kudos for his ability to connect with voters and raise tens of millions of dollars.

“He has transitioned from a candidate to a cause and in many ways he’s a reflection of the causes and ideals and enthusiasm people want to feel,” said Robert Zimmerman, a top Democratic fundraiser, who called the Beto phenomenon “very real.”

“His team doesn’t have to work too hard because he’s captivated the imagination of so many people. He’s authentic, and that’s the qualifying standard,” he said.

“His greatest danger is to catch too much fire too quickly,” Zimmerman added, reflecting another recurring worry Democrats cite about O’Rourke.

Some veteran Democrats think voters will be clamoring for a candidate who provides a sharp contrast in gravitas with Trump, and there are questions about whether O’Rourke fits that bill. 

“Many people now require an experience and temperament test for support,” said former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.). “Realize how shallow the scrutiny on Trump was and we are now paying a huge price.”

The people touting O’Rourke often speak of a special something that Obama had and that, to their eyes, seems to be missing from some likely candidates. 

O’Rourke is 46, a year younger that Obama when he ran for president. 

“Democrats respond to magic,” MSNBC host Chris Matthews declared Wednesday in a commentary urging O’Rourke to run for president. He noted the buzz created during a college campus event hosted by “Hardball” that O’Rourke attended. 

“There was magic in that room like when we hosted a 'Hardball' college tour at West Chester University up in Pennsylvania in 2008 for Sen. Obama,” he said. “I believe elections should be about the future.”  

O’Rourke met with Obama last month in Washington, and former Obama aides have encouraged him to launch a White House campaign. 

“If he's anything like Obama, his competitors are toast,” said one strategist. “The way he's taken the country by storm has been nothing short of spectacular.”