O’Rourke gets boost from battle with Trump

Democrats say former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) prime-time fight Monday night with President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE likely gave a boost to the potential presidential candidate, whose stock has fallen in the past six weeks as he has publicly mulled a bid for the White House.

Appearing at a rally on his home turf in El Paso, Texas, the ex-lawmaker sounded like someone getting ready for the race as he battled Trump over his signature border security issue — delighting Democrats in the process.

O’Rourke got heavy media coverage for his speech, and Trump himself added to the story by attacking the former congressman.

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“A young man, who has got very little going for himself except he’s got a great first name, he is, he challenged us,” Trump said to his crowd of supporters before claiming that many more people showed up for his address than O’Rourke’s.

The attacks helped coverage bleed into Tuesday morning as cable news commentators chattered over the rival rallies.

“For Beto, Trump showing up in his backyard was a hanging curveball over the plate that he crushed out of the park,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.

He argued that the criticism from the president showed that O’Rourke was “clearly inside Trump’s head” during the president’s rally.

O’Rourke needed a rash of good headlines if he wanted to keep his potential candidacy viable, some Democrats said.

In December, O’Rourke seemed like a leading contender among Democrats but a soul-searching road trip where he brought his Instagram followers to his tooth cleaning got mixed reviews from observers.

He also wrote a post on Medium about being in a “funk” after leaving his job as a congressman.

O’Rourke was near the top of some polls at the end of last year, but a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday found him trailing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget The Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection Trump: Foreign countries want Biden in office so they can continue 'ripping off' the US MORE and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Feehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' MORE (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection Feehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Overnight Energy: Warren wants Dems to hold climate-focused debate | Klobuchar joins candidates rejecting fossil fuel money | 2020 contender Bennet offers climate plan MORE (D-Mass.).

Biden led the pack with 29 percent, followed by Sanders at 22 percent, Harris at 13 percent and Warren at 8 percent. O’Rourke came in fifth with 7 percent, according to the survey. 

On Tuesday, former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said O’Rourke had “wandered into the wilderness” after losing his Senate campaign to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz slams Jim Carrey's 'vicious, angry' painting of Alabama governor after abortion ban Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults MORE (R) in Texas. 

“It was weird,” Lockhart said on CNN’s New Day. 

But Lockhart, who is predicting that O’Rourke will enter the presidential contest in February,  praised the rally in El Paso.

“Last night offered a unique opportunity for him to stand side by side with the president, offer a different vision, speak in front of a big crowd. He was talking last night like someone who is about to get in the race," Lockhart said.

O’Rourke delivered some of the soaring rhetoric that helped him during his competitive Senate race last fall against Cruz.

“We know that walls do not save lives; walls end lives,” O’Rourke said in a direct reply to comments Trump made just a short drive away.

“We are the example the United States of America needs right now,” O’Rourke said to applause and cheers from his supporters. “This is where we make our stand.”

In what is already a crowded field for Democrats, political observers say O’Rourke needed to prove he could compete.

“He elbowed his way back into the fray,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of political communications who has served political media consultant on presidential election campaigns. 

Berkovitz said the rally gave O’Rourke the opportunity to offer up “serious politics instead of social media blather.” 

“[Monday] was his best day in a while,” he added.

But some Democrats still weren’t convinced. 

“If you don’t live in the Acela corridor you wouldn’t even know he held that rally,” said one Democratic strategist who has worked on recent presidential campaigns. “You can stand for great policies but you’re going to have to punch Trump square in the face, and I don’t think he really accomplished that.” 

Still, Democrats supportive of O’Rourke said the president’s shot against him suggests Trump sees the former Texas congressman as a threat.

“He always goes after the people who stand a chance of taking him out,” said the Democratic strategist.

“You don’t see him going after Pete Buttigieg do you?” the strategist said, mentioning the South Bend, Ind., mayor who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.