Beto O'Rourke is starting to look a lot like a presidential also-ran. The former U.S. representative from El Paso, the darling of Texas liberals and national political media during his ultimately unsuccessful bid to take down Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, has been relegated to the chasing pack for the Democratic nomination.
O'Rourke has become increasingly willing to play the cable news game, making frequent appearances on MSNBC and CNN as spring has gotten closer to summer, but he's struggled to turn those appearances into polling numbers or significant free media time when he's not on the air himself.
According to analytics site FiveThirtyEight, O'Rourke is getting mentioned on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC only about a quarter as much as he was in March, when he officially announced his campaign for president.
Despite announcing comprehensive proposals to reform the U.S. immigration system and protect women's reproductive rights over the last two weeks, O'Rourke has remained steady in the last four major polls of the national Democratic field, coming in right between former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker with 4% support. O'Rourke hasn't cracked 5% in a national poll since receiving 6% support in a CNN survey released April 30.
He's moved left — O'Rourke wants to vastly reduce immigration enforcement and create an affirmative, federal right to abortion — as his campaign has continued, but O'Rourke has been unable to break out with Democratic voters. In the process, he may have given up the thing that made him so appealing to Texas voters in the first place.
"A lot of the things that made Beto an attractive candidate against Ted Cruz in 2018, he's discarding by the side of the road as he travels through Iowa and New Hampshire," says Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist. "The idea of being pragmatic and a centrist — the vote on the 'Thin Blue Line Act,' 'I was wrong, I shouldn't have voted with the police,' his position on pipelines, 'I was wrong, I shouldn't have voted with the energy industry.' He's renouncing all the policies that made him a credible centrist for positions on the left. I think the Beto magic is probably gone."
O'Rourke, Jones says, probably isn't even the Democrat with the best chance, however slim, of flipping Texas at this point. That honor, he says, goes to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate who's so far best aligned himself as the centrist alternative to Trump.
If Texas' great Democratic hope is going to rekindle the spirit of 2018, his last, best chance may be on the horizon. In three weeks, he'll take part in the Democratic Party's first presidential debate, which is slated to be a two-night extravaganza featuring as many as 20 candidates. If O'Rourke can't score points against the likes of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, California U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell or Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, he might be doomed to permanent also-ran status.
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