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Beto O’Rourke ends quest for 2020 Democratic nomination

O’Rourke tells supporters in Iowa that “we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

DES MOINES, Iowa (CFP) — Seven months after beginning his quest for the presidency with high hopes and lavish media attention born of political star power, former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has brought his campaign to an abrupt and quiet end.

O’Rourke’s exit from the race, amid anemic polling results and fundraising numbers, was made official November 1 in front of a crowd of supporters in Des Moines, Iowa, where he had been scheduled to speak at a Democratic event with the rest of the 2020 field.

Beto O’Rourke withdraws from Democratic race in Iowa (NBC News via YouTube)

“This is a campaign that has prided itself on seeing things clearly and speaking honestly,” O’Rourke told a small crowd of subdued supporters. “We have clearly seen at this point that we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully and that my service will not be as a candidate, nor as the nominee of this party for president.”

An aide to O’Rourke later told reporters that he would not enter the U.S. Senate race in Texas, as some Democratic leaders have been urging him to do. The filing deadline in Texas is December 9.

Watch video of Beto O’Rourke’s speech leaving the 2020 race

O’Rourke’s short-lived campaign will perhaps be best remembered for a moment in a September debate where, in a call for mandatory buybacks of assault weapons, he said, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

While the audience cheered, even some of his fellow Democrats winced at a soundbite likely to be weaponized by Republicans — and which may have extinguished any hope of a statewide political future for O’Rourke in Texas.

But O’Rourke offered no apologies during his withdrawal speech, saluting his campaign for being “unafraid to confront the conventional wisdom of what it was possible to say in the public sphere.”

O’Rourke, 47 — whose given first name is Robert but who uses his childhood nickname, Beto, a Spanish diminutive — served three terms in Congress representing El Paso before deciding to challenge Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.

Given little chance at the beginning, O’Rourke and his campaign fired the imagination of Democratic activists around the country, raising more than $80 million and coming within 3 points of ousting Cruz, the runner up to President Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential contest.

O’Rourke hoped to ride that momentum to the Democratic nomination when he entered the race in late March. While his initial fundraising and polling numbers were strong amid an avalanche of media attention, both began to fade after uneven performances in early presidential debates.

O’Rourke pivoted to the gun control issue in August after a gunman killed 22 people at a Wal-Mart in his hometown of El Paso, but it did not resonate enough to propel him to the front of the Democratic pack.

O’Rourke was polling at 2 percent or less nationally and didn’t even register in one recent poll in Iowa, the first caucus state where he was drawing large crowds back in April.

His fundraising had also dried up, leaving his campaign with just $3.2 million at the end of September with early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire looming.

O’Rourke’s departure from the race leaves just one Southerner in the presidential race, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

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Chasing Cornyn: Gaggle of Democrats vie to take on Texas’s senior U.S. senator

Wild card in Democratic primary remains Beto O’Rourke, although window to switch to Senate race may be running out

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — As he faces re-election in 2020, Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn can boast of nearly two decades of experience; he has more than $9 million tucked away in his campaign coffers, with millions more on the way; and he represents a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the days of Ronald Reagan.

And yet, Democrats are falling all over themselves to get into what appears to be, at least on paper, an enterprise with dubious chance of success.

Nine Democrats are already running, with a little more than three months to go before the filing deadline. And the question mark hanging over their primary is whether former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will abandon his campaign for president and return to the Lone Star Star state to try once again for the job that eluded him in 2018.

Indeed, it was O’Rourke’s 2018 race that has inspired the Democratic energy now aimed at Cornyn. O’Rourke didn’t beat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, but he came closer than any Democrat since the late Lloyd Bentsen won in 1988. After getting kicked in the teeth in statewide races for 20 years, Democrats have seized on that result as a sign of happier days ahead.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

However, there are some shadows over such a sunny assessment. For one thing, Cornyn is much less polarizing than Cruz and has a higher net approval rating. The vaunted “blue wave” — which, in the end, was unable to carry O’Rourke to victory — is unlikely to be replicated in an election with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, in a state where his approval ratings are better than they are nationally. And the Democrats will have to slog through a competitive primary, which was a hurdle O’Rourke didn’t face.

O’Rourke and his campaign team insist, with some vehemence, that he will stay in the presidential race and has no interest in switching to the Senate. And even if he were inclined to change his mind, his time may be running out.

Texas has an unusually early primary, in March 2020; the filing deadline is in December 2019, well before O’Rourke will know how he fares in Iowa or New Hampshire. Just six months remain to put together a credible campaign in the nation’s second-most populous state, and it is unlikely that the other Democrats in the race are going to abandon their campaigns to accommodate a failed presidential candidate settling for his second choice.

The candidate in the Democratic race who is perhaps the most O’Rourke-like is MJ Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force fighter pilot. Like O’Rourke, she excited the Democratic grassroots during 2018 with what was ultimately a losing campaign for a U.S. House seat in suburban Austin, and she got into the Senate race after O’Rourke decided to make a White House run instead of taking on Cornyn.

Hegar is the only Democrat who was in the race and raising money during the first half of 2019. According to Federal Elections Commission reports, she raised just over $1 million — about one-tenth of Cornyn’s haul over the same period.

The Democrat chasing Cornyn with the most robust political pedigree is State Senator Royce West, 66, who has represented a metro Dallas district for more than 25 years and is among the state’s most prominent African American leaders.

State senators in Texas actually represent more people that members of the U.S. House, giving him a strong geographical base, and the state now has the largest African-American population of any state, at more than 3.8 million.

The decision by West — a veteran lawmaker not given to tilting at political windmills — to challenge Cornyn was seen as an indication of Cornyn’s perceived vulnerability. However, West doesn’t have to give up his seat in Austin to run.

African Americans and Latinos together make up a majority of Texas Democratic voters, which is reflected in the Senate primary field, where seven of the nine candidates come from those two communities.

Three African-American candidates are running in addition to West, including Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. The race has also drawn three Latino candidates, including Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, 36, a Latina community activist who founded the civil rights group Jolt Texas.

Rounding out the top tier of candidates is Chris Bell, a former congressman from Houston who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006.

Geography also plays a role in Texas politics. West has the Dallas lane mostly to himself; Bell and Edwards will compete in Houston, and Hegar and Tzintzún Ramirez are both based in Austin.

Fundraising totals for the third quarter, due in October, should provide more clarity about which of these candidates are actually going to be viable. But none of them are going to come anywhere close to the $80 million O’Rourke raised in 2018, for a race he didn’t win.

Cornyn has not drawn a primary opponent, which will allow him to aim all of his financial firepower at whomever survives on the Democratic side

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Wendy Davis returns to Texas politics by running for U.S. House seat

Davis, who became a national figure after a 2013 filibuster against new abortion restrictions, is running against U.S. Rep. Chip Roy for an Austin-area seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Former Texas Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, whose 2014 run for governor started with high hopes but ended in a crushing 20-point defeat, will run for the 21st District U.S. House seat in 2020 against freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy in the Austin suburbs.

She is the first high-profile Democrat to take on Roy, who finds himself on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 target list after winning the seat by less than 10,000 votes in 2018.

Wendy Davis

“I’ve learned I’m at my best when I’m fighting for people,” Davis said in a campaign video launching her campaign. “I’m running for Congress because people’s voices are still being silenced.”

Davis, 56, a Harvard-educated lawyer, shot to national fame in 2013 when, on the closing day of the Texas legislative session, she led a filibuster against a bill that would have imposed new restrictions on legal abortion, including a ban on elective abortions after 20 weeks.

While the filibuster succeeded in killing the bill, then-Gov. Rick Perry quickly called a special session, where the bill passed.

Davis, who wore pink sneakers during the filibuster, parlayed her notoriety into a race for governor the next year that galvanized Democratic activists around the country. She went on to lose to Republican Governor Greg Abbott by 20 points, carrying just 18 of the state’s 254 counties.

In the Texas Senate, she represented a Fort Worth district but later moved to the Austin area. The 21st District includes the southern suburbs of Austin, the northern suburbs of San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

Roy, 46, is a former federal prosecutor who before going to Congress worked for three of the most powerful figures in Texas GOP politics, Perry and U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Roy responded to Davis’s announcement on Twitter, saying that while her “radical & extreme views will no doubt excite the likes of Nancy Pelosi & other DC liberals,” he would “continue fighting for the hardworking families of #Tx21 & the commonsense values that make Texas everything Washington is not.”

Before Roy’s election in 2018, the 21st District seat had been held for 30 years by Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, who repeatedly won re-election by comfortable margins. After Smith retired, Roy kept the seat in GOP hands but by less than 3 points.

The seat is one of six Republican-held seats in Texas that Democrats are targeting next year.

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Democrat MJ Hegar enters race against Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Hegar dismisses Cornyn as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — MJ Hegar, a tattooed former Air Force fighter pilot who nearly pulled off an upset against a veteran Republican Texas U.S. House member in 2018, now has her sights on a bigger target — U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

Hegar launched her campaign to unseat Cornyn in 2020 with a video in which she rides a motorcycle and lampoons the former Senator majority whip for his close relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MJ Hegar announces her U.S. Senate bid

“He’s that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

Cornyn’s campaign fired back at Hegar, tweeting that she was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “hand-picked candidate.”

“If elected, she will end all of the progress Texas has made by eliminating private healthcare, raising taxes and supporting late-term abortion,” the campaign tweeted, posting a quiz for its followers to judge how liberal Hegar is.

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer from Round Rock, lost by just 3 points to seven-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in the 31st District, based in Austin’s northern suburbs. Carter had carried the district by 22 points in 2016.

“I didn’t win that election, but we won something bigger,” Hegar said in her announcement video. “We helped change the status quo — new voices, new volunteers, new voters, standing up to demand better.”

WATCH: Hegar’s full announcement video

Hegar, 42, spent five years flying helicopters in the Air Force. While serving in Afghanistan in 2009, she was wounded when her helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, and she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After Hegar could no longer fly because of her injuries, she was barred by military policy from serving in other combat roles. She was part of a group of women who sued to overturn the policy, which was repealed in 2013.

Hegar launched her 2018 campaign with a video entitled “Doors,” in which she displayed her tattoos, some of which cover her war injuries. The video went viral, helping her raise more than $5 million for her race against Carter, nearly tripling his fundraising take.

Other Democrats are expected to join the Texas Senate race against Cornyn, including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro from San Antonio.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn, 67, has represented Texas in the Senate since 2002 and served as the Senate majority whip, the chamber’s No. 2 position, from 2015 to 2019. He won his last re-election race in 2014 by 28 points.

While Cornyn had to face down a primary challenge in 2014, no Republicans have yet stepped forward to challenge him next year.

No Democrat has won a Senate race in Texas since 1988. However, after Beto O’Rourke nearly unseated U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, Democrats have made Cornyn one of their top targets for 2020.

O’Rourke decided to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination rather than taking on Cornyn.

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Democrat Beto O’Rourke kicks off his presidential campaign with rally in El Paso

O’Rourke says the powerful have “corrupted democracy” at the expense of the powerless

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke formally kicked off his 2020 president campaign with a speech to a hometown crowd in El Paso in which he called on Americans to show more compassion toward immigrants and take on an “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power” that he said has “corrupted our democracy.”

“This is our moment of truth, and we cannot be found wanting,” O’Rourke told supporters who crowded into a downtown street for the March 30 event. “The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes.”

Beto O’Rourke formally kicks off campaign in El Paso (From KRGW via YouTube)

Among the challenges he cited were income inequality, access to health care and climate change. A recurring theme in O’Rourke’s speech was a call to take on powerful, wealthy interests, although he did not specify who those interests were or offer specifics of what he would do to counter them.

“For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless,” he said. “Unrestrained money and influence has warped the priorities of this county. It has corrupted our democracy. It has invited the cynicism and distrust and disengagement of millions of are fellow Americans who see their very own government enthralled to those to can pay for access and for outcomes.”

In his extemporaneous speech, O’Rourke barely mentioned the man he hopes to displace, President Donald Trump, other than to accuse the president of sowing “fear and division.”

But O’Rourke, who represented a congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border for six years, drew a sharp distinction with Trump on the issue of immigration, saying immigrants and asylum seekers “are our fellow human beings who deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings.”

“We will find security not through walls, not through militarization. We will find security by focusing on our ports of entry that connect us to the rest of the world so we have a better idea of who and what is coming here,” O’Rouke said.

He also called for legal protection for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents and creating a pathway to citizenship “to bring millions more out of the shadows and on to a path to contribute their maximum potential to the success of this country.”

O’Rouke had announced his White House run via video in mid-March and made a series of appearances in the key early caucus state of Iowa. Saturday’s rally in El Paso, followed by similar rallies in Houston and Austin, marked the formal start of his campaign.

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 a campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted 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 raise more than $80 million and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.

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. He decided to pass up the opportunity to take on Texas’s other Republican senator, John Cornyn, in 2020 in order to pursue a presidential bid.

After his initial announcement, O’Rourke raised more than $6 million in the first 24 hours. The quarterly reporting period for fundraising closed March 30, and O’Rourke is expected to lead the pack among Democratic 2020 contenders when fundraising figures are posted.

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 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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Decision ’18: Democrats fail to make major breakthrough in the South

Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.

Joe Manchin

The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.

Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.

However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.

Brian Kemp

Ron DeSantis

Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.

Abrams has refused to concede.

“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”

Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.

In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.

Beto O’Rourke

Ted Cruz

The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.

Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.

In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine won 57 percent to 41 percent for Republican Corey Stewart.

In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.

In the U.S. House races, the most high-profile casualty was 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his Dallas-area House seat to Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL player.

 

Comstock

Brat

Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.

In Miami, Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as health secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, won an open seat that had been held for 30 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.

Arrington

Cunningham

Republican incumbent Rob Woodall led by 4,000 votes in the Atlanta suburbs, and in the Charlotte area, Republican Mark Harris held a small lead over Democrat Dan McCready.

The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.

Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.

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