Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is officially running for president, but he’s missing a big opportunity by not running for senate.
O’Rourke announced his campaign in a text message to a local news outlet after Atlantic writer Edward-Isaac Dovere tweeted a reader’s discovery who was unsubscribing from O’Rourke’s list.
“Email is how we keep in touch and share important updates about how you can be part of our campaign to elect Beto for president,” the email said. “We hope you’ll reconsider leaving, but if you’re sure, we’re sad to see you go.”
Frontiers of campaigning, 2019: announcing a presidential run via an email unsubscribe message: https://t.co/7JwzUfWYja
— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) March 13, 2019
O’Rourke became famous nationwide through his well-fought campaign in 2018, in which he nearly unseated Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), himself a former 2016 Republican presidential candidate. The former Congressman raised nearly $80 million — 44 percent of which came from small-dollar donations of $200 or less — and held rallies with crowds of tens of thousands of people. One rally in Austin, which featured country singer Willie Nelson, brought out 55,000 supporters.
All that being said, O’Rourke may actually be able to unseat Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is up for re-election in 2020. Cornyn may be a Republican in Texas, but Beto O’Rourke now has statewide (and national) name recognition, a massive email list, and a grassroots army of supporters in Texas eager to knock on doors for him between now and November 3.
However, his presidential hopes may already be doomed, given his competition. A Morning Consult poll conducted between March 4 and March 10 showed O’Rourke polling at just seven percent, placing fourth behind former Vice President, Joe Biden and Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Kamala Harris (D-California). In early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, O’Rourke is polling even more poorly at just five percent.
Among all the Democratic contenders, former two-term Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is tied for dead-last with more than a half-dozen other current and prospective 2020 candidates. Even mid-tier candidates like Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) are polling better than Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper may not be nationally famous, but he led his state during a time in which the population increased by more than 13 percent since the 2010 Census, and which US News ranked as the nation’s #1 state economy last year. Colorado is also a blue state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by three points, meaning that Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), who is fighting for re-election in 2020, is incredibly vulnerable.
While she hasn’t made any official announcement yet, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is reportedly entertaining thoughts of a presidential campaign. The Root reported Wednesday that Abrams — who delivered the official Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union — is not ruling out a 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia) currently doesn’t have any Democrats challenging him for the senate seat he won in 2014, but Abrams’ name has come up among likely challengers who would have a legitimate change of beating him.
Currently, the makeup of the senate is 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with Democrats). If Beto O’Rourke, John Hickenlooper, and Stacey Abrams successfully unseated Republicans up for re-election in their respective states, that would put the senate at an even 50-50 split. And should Democrats win back the White House, this would mean that a Democratic vice president would be the tie-breaking vote.
Even though all eyes are on the White House with Donald Trump on the ballot in 2020, the senate will likely be the difference-maker in whether or not any of the policies Democratic presidential candidates are running on would actually pass and become law. If Republicans keep control of the senate after the 2020 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will almost certainly refuse to even consider any bills passed by a Democratic House, championed by a Democratic president. If Democrats truly want to enact their policy agenda, flipping the senate will be crucial.
And that won’t happen as long as Democrats in states with vulnerable Senate Republicans refuse to challenge them.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.