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O’Rourke’s “calculated gamble”

The Trib takes a look back at Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s successful for for Congress in 2012 to see what we might learn about his current campaign for the Senate.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In announcing Friday his challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O’Rourke threw himself into a long-shot race that he has vowed to approach much like his El Paso campaigns: without much regard for the established political order, the pricey trappings of modern campaigns or what the political prognosticators think.

The question to many now — especially those watching from his hometown — is whether the devil-may-care politics that made him a star in El Paso are convertible to the massive undertaking that is a statewide campaign in Texas.

“Something that is very doable on a local level over time — can you scale that to an 18-month statewide campaign?” asked El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a longtime O’Rourke ally. “I think you can with the kind of work ethic Beto has and the kind of passion and enthusiasm Beto has.”

To many familiar with O’Rourke, the 2012 race is not exactly a blueprint for his 2018 effort — but it’s certainly instructive.

[…]

Reyes was not exactly caught flatfooted by O’Rourke’s challenge — he had been rumored to be interested in higher office long before he announced — but it soon became clear O’Rourke was the workhorse in the race. He spent months knocking on doors — over 16,000 by his count — and showed up everywhere, while Reyes was not fond of block walking and sent a staffer to most campaign forums.

People involved in the O’Rourke campaign jokingly referred to it as the “Great Depression campaign” due to its lack of financial resources — and tightfistedness when it had them. The campaign was made up of mostly unpaid volunteers, not the high-priced consultants and pollsters that O’Rourke has also sworn off for his Senate campaign.

O’Rourke’s shoestring operation provided a vivid contrast to Reyes’ well-funded bid, which had all the makings of a modern campaign — including a slick 60-second TV ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Reyes also had on his side President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to the far-flung district to stump for the incumbent.

O’Rourke’s most memorable endorsement may have been that of the El Paso Times, which said Reyes had “stood on the sidelines” as decisions had been made affecting the border region.

It was a theme O’Rourke frequently echoed throughout the race as he promised to be a more forceful, engaged advocate for the region in Washington. O’Rourke also was not afraid to raise ethical questions about Reyes, who doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to himself and family members, according to a 2012 study that got ample attention in the race.

It’s a good read, so check it out. Underdog stories are always enticing, but I don’t know how much O’Rourke’s 2012 primary victory tells us about his chances in a statewide race in 2018. I do believe O’Rourke will work hard, and he has already generated a lot of positive attention for his campaign. We’ll see how that translates into fundraising and other metrics as we go. For now, don’t underestimate the guy.

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