Election night was just a week ago. Votes — in Florida, Arizona and California — are still being counted and recounted.The calendar hasn't even flipped to December and still, among a certain set of political die-hards and fan boys, one question dominates the conversation: Is Beto O'Rourke going to run for president?
Run the question through Google, and you get somewhere between 10 and 20 million search results, depending on if you muddy up your query with O'Rourke's last name. National publications like The Hill want to know, as do international newspapers like The Guardian. Democrats in Iowa, the home of the 2020 election's first caucuses, have invited O'Rourke to visit whenever he wants.
O'Rourke's Senate campaign turned out, in the end, to be a suicide mission. He ran the best campaign any Democrat has run statewide in two decades, built a nationwide following and raised $70 million, all to lose to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz by 2.5 points.
The loss, O'Rourke made clear in a lengthy email sent to supporters over the weekend, was tough to swallow.
"The loss is bitter, and I don’t know that I’ve been able to fully understand it. I try not to ask what I could have done differently because I don’t know that there is an end to those questions or thoughts," the former U.S. representative wrote. "There are a million different decisions I could have made, paths I could have taken, things I could have said or not said, said better or differently. I did my best, everyone did."
While the sting from his loss to Cruz is evident throughout the rest of the letter, O'Rourke props the door open for the future, providing fuel for speculation about what he might do in 2020, 2022 or 2024.
"I am grateful that you gave me a chance to be part of this. I feel responsible to you, to our country, to my kids and to my conscience to make sure that we continue to find a way to respond to the urgency that we still feel. It didn’t go away Tuesday night. Our ability to convert hope and inspiration into action and change must not be wasted or kept to a candidate or campaign lest it dissipate and be rendered unusable at the most challenging time in our country’s history," O'Rourke wrote. "Just know that I want to be part of the best way forward for this country — whatever way I can help in whatever form that takes."
According to political experts, O'Rourke could pursue a couple of jobs over the next four years, thanks to the national profile, the fundraising base he built during his run at Cruz and the fact that he's now out of a job for the first time since he was first elected to the U.S. House in 2012.
"If I had to bet, I would say 'Why not run for president?' " Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. "[O'Rourke] seems to be a person who goes big."
O'Rourke could also choose to run for statewide office in Texas again in either 2020, when Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election, or 2022 when Texans will choose their next governor.
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"My take all along was he never thought he would get this close and that this was a precursor to a governor's race," longtime Dallas Republican consultant Vinny Minchillo said. "Let's say [Texas Governor Greg] Abbott decides not to run again. Then you've got a Republican primary with [Texas Land Commissioner] George P. [Bush] and [Lieutenant Governor] Dan Patrick and on the Democrats' side it's Beto and pick your favorite Castro brother."
Even if O'Rourke is eyeing a run at becoming Texas' first Democratic governor since Ann Richards, he could still run for president, Minchillo and Jones agree.
"You can do both. As long as you do reasonably well running for president, no one is going to hold it against you," Jones said. "You avoid the Rick Perry oops moment [and you're OK]."
According to a poll released this week from Politico and the Morning Consult, O'Rourke is running third among Democratic primary hopefuls. He trails former Vice President Joe Biden, the choice of 26 percent of those surveyed, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the choice of 19 percent of those taking the poll, with 8 percent of respondents saying they supported O'Rourke's candidacy. While the 2020 general election is a little less than two years away, debates between what's expected to be a two-dozen or so strong Democratic field will begin as early as next summer.