As Beto bumper stickers and yard signs are peeled off of cars and removed from front lawns of O’Rourke supporters who are waking up hung over from the midterms, some millennials are wondering what’s next for O’Rourke and a Texas that’s a little more purple than it was a week ago.
For some voters, O’Rourke’s loss in the closest Senate race Texas has seen in years is solid proof: Texas will never, ever be blue. But according to Jose Medina, deputy communications director with Texas Rising — a group for people under 30 focused on electoral politics and public policy advocacy that’s under the Texas Freedom Network umbrella — first-time voters are likely to come back to vote in future elections.
“We have a theory that voting is habit-forming,” Medina says. “When I voted for the first time at that age, it was really exciting and I couldn’t wait for the next election. We believe and are hoping that it’s the same for these young voters who might be voting for the first time.”
In this year’s election, millennials made bigger waves than they did four years ago. Turnout was up more than 400 percent among voters under 30 compared with the 2014 midterms, according to data from TargetSmart, a nonprofit that collects political data.
CNN exit polls showed that 71 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 voted for O’Rourke while 29 percent voted for GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. The race was closer among 30- to 44-year-olds, with 51 percent voting for O’Rourke and 47 percent voting for Cruz.
Voters under 30 accounted for 16 percent of all voters, according to the same exit poll.
Addison resident Azim Sookoor, 28, says he was excited about O’Rourke and even went to two or three of his rallies.
“I knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but I had my hopes up,” he says.
Sookoor was watching the coverage on TV and says he thought O’Rourke might win early into the night, but as polls closed and the numbers came in, Cruz started to gain.
“It was so heartbreaking,” Sookoor says. “But my hope is that people who got involved in politics through his campaign will get involved in their local politics in the future.”
Brandon Olateju, a 27-year-old from Rowlett, says that before O’Rourke came along, he'd never voted in a midterm election.
“He was a breath of fresh air. … I even went to a rally of his in Plano,” he says.
Although he was disappointed by O’Rourke’s loss, he says the exciting race made him more civic-minded.
“I plan to vote as often as possible from here on out,” Olateju says. “[O’Rourke] sounds presidential, so maybe he’ll be running in 2020. Who knows? I would vote for him.”
Ali Khorasani, a millennial and member of the Houston Democratic Socialists of America, says candidates who reached out to marginalized communities like Franklin Bynum, who won a Harris County criminal court judge race, and Jon Rosenthal, who won in Texas House District 131, did better than O’Rourke in their races and hold the key to future election wins.
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“[O’Rourke] is a center-left Dem who didn’t really reach out to communities of color, so it kind of makes sense that he didn’t win,” Khorasani said. “Candidates in Texas who did do that, did very well.”
Khorasani says the future of Texas depends on a platform that reaches out to issues millennials and people of color care about.
Medina says he also noticed young people organizing around issues more than political figureheads.
“There was definitely a lot more energy from young people about this election than other midterms, for sure, but they weren’t just energized about O’Rourke,” he says. “We noticed they were energized about issues important to them, and that’s the kind of momentum we think we’ll be seeing in the future.”