It’s not the most typical scenario: a Democrat who lost against a widely-unpopular Republican incumbent has become one of the potential frontrunners in the next presidential election.
Then again, Beto O’Rourke is not your typical political candidate.
The Democratic congressman, who sought to unseat Ted Cruz in the Texas midterms, garnered national recognition for launching a campaign based on unity and bipartisanship. His race broke fundraising records and spurred voter turnout across the Lone Star state, comparable to presidential elections.
For a region that had not elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than 30 years, it appeared for a moment in time as if Texas was about to send a progressive to the US Senate.
Mr O’Rourke won over more than 48 per cent of the state compared to Mr Cruz, who received 51 per cent of votes, with 94 per cent of polling sites reporting their data, the Associated Press reported early on Wednesday morning.
But the rising Democratic star captured the hearts and minds of voters across the country, who saw him as the perfect representation of a blue wave threatening to unseat a slate of Republican incumbents such as Mr Cruz in reliably red regions that became battleground states during this historic election season.
“It’s a very good day for his presidential prospects, but the campaign will start today,” Brian Klaas, a political scientist and US election specialist at University College London, told The Independent.
Mr O’Rourke running for his party’s presidential nomination, had he won on Tuesday night, would have been “broadly seen as abandoning his post”, Mr Klaas said.
“The people who are opposed to the idea of Beto running will say, ‘But what has he won other than a House seat?’ And that’s the conventional wisdom, that you need to win the governorship or a Senate race statewide.
“But Donald Trump didn’t do that, so I think he’s going to be a viable candidate almost immediately. He’s got the charisma, he’s from a red state, which means he can pick up voters in non-traditional parts of America for Democrats, he would made Texas competitive – that would be an earthquake for the electoral college.”
However, there are factors which make it unlikely Mr O’Rourke will win the Democratic nomination for 2020, including – Mr Klaas noted – the man himself having previously ruled it out.
Another is that the midterms were generally a “victory of women”, setting the Democratic nomination up for a potential female candidate.
“If he doesn’t run, and somebody who is a woman does, I think he would be the top choice for vice-presidential candidate,” Mr Klaas said, adding: “He’ll either run, or he’ll be in contention very quickly for vice-presidential consideration.”
Tony Pierce, who travelled from California to Texas with his wife in October in order to campaign for the Democratic candidate, told The Independent: “I really think Texas is on its way. This is the start of their story. The next generations are going to build from here, and maybe that’s the most inspiring part of all of this.”
Shortly after the election was called for Mr Cruz, Twitter erupted with calls for Mr O’Rourke to now run in 2020 against Donald Trump – who threw his support behind Mr Cruz, stumping for his former opponent with whom he had exchanged controversial insults during the general election just two years ago.
Mr O’Rourke thanked his supporters on Tuesday night, telling them in a concession speech that immediately went viral: “I’m so f*cking proud of you guys.”
He added: “Tonight’s loss does nothing to diminish the way I feel about Texas or this country. I believe in you. I believe in Texas. I believe in this country.”
Throughout the election, Mr O’Rourke flatly denied he would run against the president in 2020 if elected to the US Senate.
However, his loss has now left the door open for him to launch a presidential bid ahead of the next elections – and at a time when the Democratic Party has no clear frontrunner, the slot could easily go to a popular Democrat from a state like Texas rather than a coastal region such as New York or California.
#Beto2020 was one of the top trending hashtags on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, with Twitter users imploring the Democrat to consider another campaign in the months ahead.
“Beto might have lost Texas but his loss has paved the way for him to run for president,” one user wrote.
“I don’t know enough but I sure like what I see so far; and I know that sometimes things happens for a reason,” said another.
As for Mr O’Rourke, the Democrat did not mention 2020 in his concession speech on Tuesday night. However, he hinted at continuing to fight for bipartisan values in Texas.
“I’ll work with anyone – anyone, anytime, anywhere – to make sure in the same way that you’ve been there for us, that now we can be there for you,” he concluded. “Not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Texans, as Americans.”
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