Beto shifts gears in effort to jump-start campaign

Beto shifts gears in effort to jump-start campaign
© Greg Nash

Can Beto O’Rourke recapture his old magic?

The Texas Democrat is searching for a jolt of momentum to energize his flagging presidential campaign, booking a series of television interviews with national news outlets as buzz around his once-promising candidacy has fallen, along with his polling numbers.

ADVERTISEMENT

O’Rourke has spent the two months since launching his presidential bid shunning the spotlight, traveling to 15 states and holding more than 150 small events in a bid to out-hustle his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But in that time, O’Rourke has been surpassed by upstart South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegJournalism is now opinion-based — not news-based Buttiegieg backs NFL players' right to protest during anthem: I 'put my life on the line to defend' that 2020 Democrats join striking McDonald's workers MORE. He has fallen into the bottom tier of candidates in national polls and has watched the media, which once produced glowing profiles of his long-shot Senate bid, turn on him.

O’Rourke is now looking to change his trajectory by embarking on a media tour that is meant to reintroduce him to voters, starting with MSNBC and ABC and followed by a high-stakes town hall event next week on CNN.

“I recognize I can do a better job talking to a national audience,” O’Rourke said Monday on MSNBC’s “The Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Nadler: Mueller wants to testify privately Opposition research requests for O'Rourke 'have completely died off': report MORE Show.”

The new rollout has been bumpy at times.

A Tuesday interview with the “The View” went viral after co-host Meghan McCainMeghan Marguerite McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' Meghan McCain says Ben Carson should be developing brain cancer treatment, not working at HUD Stormy Daniels praises Meghan McCain for going off-script in interview MORE told O’Rourke she did not believe a female candidate would be able to get away with some of the things he has said and done, including his presidential launch on the cover of Vanity Fair, in which he said he was “born” to run for president.

O’Rourke said he regretted the decision to make his launch announcement on the cover of the high-society magazine and apologized for his remarks.

“It reinforces that perception of privilege,” O’Rourke said. “And that headline that said I was born to be in this, in the article I was attempting to say that my calling is in public service, no one is born to be president of the United States of America, least of all me.”

ADVERTISEMENT

O’Rourke also apologized for having said he “sometimes” helps his wife Amy raise their children, calling it a “ham-handed way” of acknowledging all the work she does as the family’s primary caregiver.

“It’s a tough spot to be in, to have been the man of the moment and now to be relegated to an afterthought,” said Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist. “I wouldn’t rule him out. He’s got a great team and eternity to climb back into this. But still, it’s never good to be trying to reintroduce yourself and have people second guessing your campaign and apologizing for things you’ve done. That’s the challenge he’s facing now.”

O’Rourke entered the presidential race as a top contender with a lot fanfare.

His 2018 Senate race against Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Money: Conservative blocks disaster relief bill | Trade high on agenda as Trump heads to Japan | Boeing reportedly faces SEC probe over 737 Max | Study finds CEO pay rising twice as fast as worker pay Conservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan MORE (R) tantalized Democrats with the possibility of turning Texas blue. He raised $80 million in that time, which is more than any candidate for Senate has raised in any race ever.

O’Rourke fell just short against Cruz, but he turned out a record number of Democrats, won independents and drew support from about 500,000 registered Republicans.

“For the first time in at least my adult lifetime, maybe since 1976, Texas and its 38 electoral votes have been unlocked,” O’Rourke told Maddow. “They’re in contention, and we will have a seat at the table.”

O’Rourke then steamrolled into the presidential race, pacing the field by raising more than $9.4 million in the 18 days after launching. At the time of his entrance, he was polling in the 10 to 12 percent range, which had him firmly in the hunt.

But the fawning coverage O’Rourke once received has dried up. Instead, there has been an uptick in coverage about O’Rourke’s failure as a Senate candidate, his “white privilege” and questions about what he stands for and whether a three-term former member of the House of Representatives is qualified to be president.

The quixotic elements that once drew people to O’Rourke — his skateboarding, table climbing, viral internet moments, punk band and frenetic energy — have become punch lines on social media and at the White House, where President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE has dubbed him “Crazy Hands.”

“There’s undeniably something intriguing about him. He’s captivated millions of people across the country,” said Feldman. “But we haven’t seen in the first few months of his presidential campaign who he wants to be. He needs to figure out why he wants to be in this race and what his vision is.”

The clock is ticking. O’Rourke has collapsed in the polls and presently sits at only 4.2 percent in the RealClearPolitics average. An Emerson Polling survey released this week found him at 3 percent support, having fallen out of the second tier of candidates and into the pack of low-polling contenders alongside such figures as tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangDNC boss says candidates to be involved in debate lottery Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Swalwell becomes second 2020 candidate to accept cryptocurrency donations MORE.

“From a purely objective sense, the position he’s in is no different from the vast majority of the Democratic field, but the fact that he had a splashy entrance is problematic for him now,” said Patrick Murray, the polling director for Monmouth University. “Some of these other candidates didn’t raise expectations the way he did. Now he has to face coverage about how his momentum has stalled.”

There’s still time for O’Rourke to turn it around.

He has raised gobs of cash, which should be able to sustain his presidential campaign through the early primary states.

The allure to Democrats of a candidate that can carry Texas remains strong. Even if O’Rourke flops in the first four primary and caucus states, Texas Democrats will cast ballots shortly after on Super Tuesday. There are more delegates at stake in Texas than in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada combined.

But O’Rourke’s next big test will come on Tuesday at a nationally televised town hall event on CNN.

Buttigieg rocketed to stardom on the strength of his first CNN town hall, overtaking O’Rourke as the young new Democratic star.

During his Tuesday interview on “The View,” O’Rourke was asked if he would drop out and throw his support behind someone else if he continues to struggle.

“There’s a lot of time,” O’Rourke said. “The polls will change. There will be ups and downs, and there are a lot of people to meet who should have an opportunity to ask questions of me … to make up their minds amid this extraordinary field.”