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Former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running for Democratic presidential nomination

Campaign for White House launched four months after O’Rourke came up short in U.S. Senate race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Saying that the United States faces a “defining moment,” former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, launching a national campaign just four months after losing a U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“The challenges that we face right now — the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate — have never been greater,” O’Rourke said in an announcement video posted on social media. “They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States.”

O’Rourke and wife Amy in announcement video
Click photo to watch video

O’Rourke, who raised more than $80 million dollars in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, promised to run “the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen.”

“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” he said.

In his announcement video, O’Rourke did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but he did draw a sharp contrast between himself and the president on Trump’s signature issue, immigration.

“If immigration is a problem, it is the best possible problem to have, and we should ensure that there are lawful paths to work, to be with family and to flee persecution,” he said.

Asked about O’Rourke’s announcement, Trump made light of the Texan’s propensity to use his hands as he speaks.

“I think he’s got a lot of hand hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement,” Trump told reporters at the White House, “I said, ‘Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?'”

After posting his kickoff video, O’Rourke traveled to Iowa, which will hold the first caucuses in the 2020 election calendar. A formal campaign kickoff is scheduled for March 30 in his hometown of El Paso.

O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching his campaign to unseat Cruz in 2017.

Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to outraise Cruz and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

Trump, who had a famously frosty relationship with Cruz when they competed for the White House in 2016, came to Texas to campaign for the senator as the race narrowed.

In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke’s decision to pursue the presidency is good news for Texas’s other U.S. senator, Republican John Cornyn, who had already begin preparing for a challenge from O’Rourke in 2020.

O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

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Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro announces run for Democratic nomination

Former Obama Cabinet secretary is first Southerner in 2020 White House field

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Telling supporters that he wants to “make sure that the promise of America is available to everyone in this country,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro launched his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Julian Castro announces 2020 White House bid (From YouTube)

“It’s time for new leadership, it’s time for a new commitment to make sure that the opportunities I’ve had are available to every American,” he said in his January 22 kick-off with supporters in the mostly Latino West Side neighborhood of San Antonio, where he grew up.

“There are no front-runners that are born here, but I’ve always believed that with big dreams and hard work, anything is possible in this country,” he said.

Castro, the grandson of immigrants from Mexico, lit into President Donald Trump’s policy of trying to dissuade asylum seekers from Latin American countries from trying to cross into the United States, which Castro described as “cruel.”

“After (Trump) claimed that we are facing an invasion at the border, he called it a national security crisis,” Castro said. “Well, there is a crisis today. It’s a crisis of leadership.”

“Donald Trump has failed to uphold the values of our great nation.”

He also drew another contrast with Trump by thanking the news media assembled to cover the rally, saying, “I know that the press work hard and that they are the friend of the truth in this country.”

Castro, 44, served as mayor of Texas’s second-largest city from 2009 to 2014 before being picked as President Barack Obama’s housing secretary in 2014. He was reportedly on the short-list to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.

His identical twin brother is U.S. Rep., Joaquin Castro, who represents the West Side in Congress.

Castro is the second Southerner to enter what is expected to be a crowded 2020 Democratic field, joining Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.

Another Texan, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost a Senate race in 2018, is considering the race. Other Southerns who have been mentioned include former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, and former Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe.

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Insight: Midterms show why going left in the South leaves Democrats in a hole

Democrats’ short-term problem isn’t rallying their base; it’s getting buried in small towns and rural areas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally base and minority voters.

No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.

But, alas for Democrats, this strategy proved rather impotent. Beto O’Rourke won’t be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum won’t be governor of Florida, nor Stacey Abrams governor of Georgia.

As Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left, both regionally and nationally, may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In November, Democrats made major pushes in the five largest Southern states — Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia — targeting federal and statewide races. The only place that strategy worked well was in Virginia, already reliably in the Democratic column.

In Florida, with Gillum and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson leading their ticket, Democrats took just two of the nine targeted House seats and lost both a Senate seat and the governor’s race — in fact, every statewide race except for agriculture commissioner.

In Texas, with O’Rourke leading the way by not beating Ted Cruz, Democrats took just two of eight targeted House seats, and all eight GOP incumbents running for re-election statewide won – Governor Greg Abbott by more than 1 million votes.

In Georgia, Abrams’s candidacy helped the suburban doughnut around Atlanta to the Democratic column, costing Republicans one House seat. But she fell short against an opponent, Brian Kemp, who lacked her polish or political skills.

In North Carolina, none of the House seats targeted by Democrats flipped, though they did manage to reduce the GOP’s previously veto-proof majority in the legislature.

The results for Democrats were even more grim in the smaller Southern states. In Arkansas, where as recently as 2010 Democrats held the governorship and every statehouse post, they didn’t come within 20 points in any statewide race and lost every federal race for the third election in a row.

So why is this important in 2020? Because if Democrats can’t win statewide races in the South, they face daunting math in both the Electoral College and the Senate. And the near total failure of out-and-out “progressive” candidates to win in 2018 raises serious questions about the wisdom of nominating them two years from now.

If Trump sweeps the South outside of Virginia, he’s at 167 electoral votes. Add to that the 36 votes of the reliably Republican states in the West and Great Plains, and he’s at 203. And in every presidential election but one since World War II, the same candidate that has carried Florida also carried Ohio, which puts him at 221.

Thus, Trump would need just 49 electoral votes from the remaining states; in 2016, he got 85. To deny him the presidency, a Democrat would have to take away Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with no room for error.

Now consider how much easier it would be for a Democrat to beat Trump if he or she could pick off some states in the South, as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did on their way to the White House.

And consider how unlikely that will be if the Democratic ticket is headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

The Senate math is even more daunting. Of the 22 Republican-held seats up in 2020, 12 are in the South and six in those reliably Republican areas in the West. Democrats must also defend a seat in Alabama.

Democrats need to flip four seats to get to a majority. So if they are shut out in the South, including Alabama, the best they can hope for is a 50-50 tie, even if they run the table in the four remaining GOP-held states — Arizona, Iowa, Colorado and Maine.

Of course, proponents of the with-progressives-we-can-win-strategy will point to the fact that O’Rourke, Gillum and Abrams came closer to victory than Democrats have in recent elections — and also closer than Phil Bredesen, the Democratic moderate in Tennessee’s Senate race.

That may be true, but it also begs this question: Given the political winds blowing in Democrats’ favor in 2018, might they have won those close races had they nominated candidates more willing to trim their progressive sails?

Long-term demographic trends, particularly more urban and minority voters and a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs of major cities, do threaten Republican hegemony in the South. But 2020 is not the long term.

The biggest short-term problem for Democrats in the South is that they are getting buried in small towns and rural areas outside of major cities with majority white populations, digging a hole so deep that there are not enough urban, suburban and minority voters to get them out of it.

Kemp took at least 70 percent of the vote in half of Georgia’s counties. In the 350 miles of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Gillum won just two counties. And if you drew a line across Texas from El Paso to Austin to Houston, O’Rourke’s only victories north of that line were in Dallas and Fort Worth.

If Democrats can’t fix their problem with rural voters, they are unlikely to win statewide in the South in 2020 — and 2018 shows that throwing self-styled progressives against the Republicans’ big red wall is certainly not the solution.

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