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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills 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 ObamaTrump and Obama: The odd couple who broke 'extended deterrence' for the Indo-Pacific The US is ripe for climate-friendly diets Obama says he once broke a classmate's nose for calling him a racial slur 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 CruzKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Shelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination MORE (R), won 73 percent of the vote in those counties — 3 points better than GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate Biden's picks face peril in 50-50 Senate Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo 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'RourkeTexas Republican criticizes Cruz for Cancun trip: 'When a crisis hits my state, I'm there' Progressives target 'Cancun Cruz' in ad to run on 147 Texas radio stations 'Get off TV': Critics blast Abbott over handling of Texas power outages following winter storm 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 DurbinMurkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack Progressive support builds for expanding lower courts 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 WarrenBecerra says he wants to 'build on' ObamaCare when pressed on Medicare for All Yellen deputy Adeyemo on track for quick confirmation Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersKlain says Harris would not overrule parliamentarian on minimum wage increase Romney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (I-Vt.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharFBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory BookerCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line MORE (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMenendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill Former Ohio GOP chairwoman Jane Timken launches Senate bid Brown blasts 'spineless' GOP colleagues at trial MORE (D-Ohio), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisEmhoff reflects on interracial marriage case: Without this 'I would not be married to Kamala Harris' WHO: Coronavirus deaths down 20 percent worldwide last week Collins: Biden's .9T coronavirus package won't get any Senate GOP votes MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandCapito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed Lobbying world The Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats 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) TesterJennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Democrats in standoff over minimum wage On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears 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 BidenKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video 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 MurphyNew rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees Biden pledges action on guns amid resistance Sunday shows - Trump acquittal in second impeachment trial reverberates 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 ClintonShelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Cruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts 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.”