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 TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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.


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 ObamaDemocrats need a coherent response to attacks on critical race theory Blinken meets representative of Dalai Lama in India Obama to join NBA Africa as strategic partner 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 CruzGOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine MORE (R), won 73 percent of the vote in those counties — 3 points better than GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Trump slams Romney, Senate GOP over infrastructure deal 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'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke mum on run for Texas governor Beto O'Rourke, Willie Nelson financially back Texas Democrats in elections bill fight Texans split on whether Abbott deserves reelection: poll 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 DurbinDick DurbinBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch 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 WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (I-Vt.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory BookerHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer MORE (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSchumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-Ohio), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWhy in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTreat broadband as infrastructure and we have a chance to get it right House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors To make energy green, remove red tape 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) TesterSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Sinema says she opposes .5T price tag for spending bill 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 BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot 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 MurphyDemocrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia 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 ClintonBiden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote Women's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement 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.”