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August 14th, 2018:

Chron goes on a road trip with Beto

This covers a lot of ground we’ve been over before, along with some anecdotes of interaction with various voters. It also has a nice, concise summary of the nature of the Beto O’Rourke go-everywhere strategy.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

O’Rourke’s visit came during a sweep of all 254 counties in Texas over the past year. Many of the miles were clocked in a white Dodge Grand Caravan. It was a trip that would have been easy to dismiss as a one-time campaign stunt. But this month, he was back in rural West Texas as he launched a 34-day road trip across the state.

It’s a new playbook, born of Democratic futility in Texas.

The first three days of O’Rourke’s journey took him 765 zig-zagging miles — from a friendly, Latin-flavored send-off in downtown El Paso to sparsely-attended stops in gun-friendly Republican strongholds like Muleshoe, in Bailey County, where he would get quizzed by skeptical locals about the Second Amendment.

The time and effort the El Paso congressman is investing in small-town Texas has become a hallmark of his small-dollar, no-PAC campaign to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a former presidential candidate and conservative icon who won the state by 16 points in 2012.

It also represents a quantum shift in Democratic strategy in the Lone Star State, which has always relied on running up the numbers in the large urban enclaves of Austin, Houston and San Antonio. The desolate cow towns that dot the state’s vast expanses make wonderful backdrops for homey political campaigns, but the resources O’Rourke is throwing at his statewide strategy suggest that it’s about more than creating a Norman Rockwell tableau.

Democrats acknowledge that O’Rourke may not win over conservative rural voters in Archer County, near the Oklahoma state line, but he might be able to wrangle a few more votes here and there, enough to make a difference in a race that some polls say has tightened into single digits.

“You can’t get beat 80-20 in Brownwood, Texas, and get elected to the United States Senate,” said former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the last Democrat to win statewide office — in 1994. “You have to show people that you are culturally attuned to them, and for Beto that should be easy. There’s nobody more Texan than Beto O’Rourke.”

[…]

All the same, O’Rourke’s long-shot quest to scavenge votes in the state’s most solidly Republican strongholds has its skeptics.

“You don’t have all the time and money in the world,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who has done campaign work for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. “You’re looking at winning a statewide election in Texas, and some 8 million people are going to vote, more or less. How is it an efficient use of your scarce time and money to travel to small towns … to pick up five votes here or 10 votes there? The voters, especially Democratic voters, are still in the cities.”

O’Rourke’s answer is that the old playbook hasn’t been working.

“You’ve got this history where a Democrat hasn’t won statewide in more than 20 years,” said campaign spokesman Chris Evans. “You kind of got this question: What hasn’t been going right?”

Let’s be clear up front that both Mauro and Steinhauser are right, though in an off-year election we’re talking more like five million voters, not eight million. I’ve made all of these points before, and they remain the key aspects to the campaign. What we need to see is what effect the Beto strategy has had, in terms of his performance, and to an extent downballot Democratic performance, in places that have been hostile to Dems. The polls so far suggest some of this must be happening, but we don’t really know how much, and so we can’t begin to evaluate the question of how much value Beto got for the effort. And if we do deem this strategy a success in the end, can it be replicated by other candidates, or is O’Rourke essentially a unicorn? There will be much to analyze and argue about when all is said and done.

Two other points to note. One is that O’Rourke isn’t doing this all by himself – he has a large and growing army of volunteers knocking on doors and making calls for him. That’s a big deal, though how much different this is than what previous well-funded candidates like Wendy Davis and Bill White were able to do, and how easily it can be replicated by candidates to come, are questions I can’t answer at this time. And two, as important as it is for Dems to do better in places other than the big cities and the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley where they normally do well, they need to run up big margins in those places as well if they want to have a chance to win statewide. The good news, as we saw in that recent Trib story, is that O’Rourke is doing well in the urban areas. That’s as much a matter of inspiration and enthusiasm as anything else, and as such it’s not something that is endemic to this campaign. Beto has spent plenty of time in the big cities as well – there was a big rally with him in Houston just this past weekend – so again the question is what is the best allocation of resources between the base areas and the areas where improvement is needed. We’ll be finding out about that in November as well.

SD19 runoff date set

Mark your calendars.

Pete Gallego

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has picked Sept. 18 as the date of the special election runoff to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Early voting will run Sept. 10-14.

The runoff pits Republican Pete Flores against Democrat Pete Gallego. They were the top two finishers in the first round of the special election, which was held July 31 and included six other candidates.

The runoff date was first revealed Monday by lawyers appearing in Travis County court for a case challenging the eligibility of Gallego, the former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas. Abbott issued a proclamation officially setting the date of the runoff shortly after the hearing was over.

The hearing was in response to a Republican Party motion for a Temporary Restraining Order against the Texas Secretary of State from certifying candidates for the runoff, part of their effort to sue Gallego off the ballot for violating our non-existent residency laws. The motion was denied, so go figure. Anyway, the battle is now joined. Go throw Pete Gallego a few bucks if you want to keep Dan Patrick from increasing his grip on the Senate.

Ted and Trump

Two lousy tastes that taste worse together.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has asked President Donald Trump to come to Texas to campaign for him.

During a campaign stop in Seguin [last] Monday, Cruz said he has reached out to his former rival for the White House to help him with his re-election effort against Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

“I would certainly welcome his support, and I hope to see him in Texas,” Cruz said, standing outside the Dixie Grill in Seguin. “I think we are likely to see the president down in Texas before the election.”

Cruz said while his relationship with Trump has had its “ups and downs” due to their 2016 GOP primary battle, he has tried to become an ally to the president. He said he has been in constant contact with the White House and Trump directly to offer his help in getting legislation through the Senate.

“Ups and downs” would be one way to describe it. Cruz is at least smart enough to realize that complacency is his enemy and he really is in trouble if The Base isn’t fired up, so if he needs to swallow a little humiliation to avoid that, he will. Of course, bringing in Trump will also serve to fire up the Dems, so Cruz or any other Republican in his position needs to feel secure that this is a net win for their side, which it may or may not be. I don’t buy the argument that this race is a toss-up – I’m going to need to see at least one poll that has O’Rourke in the lead for that – but Cruz clearly has a small margin for error. That may push him to take some higher-risk actions, of the kind that Greg Abbott would feel no need to do. This is one such action, whether he calculates it that way or not.