Beto Mania is over. Beto Mania was good. Long live Beto Mania.
Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who became a national sensation during his viral, base-driven, extraordinarily well-funded effort to defeat incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, has lost. After an early lead that probably lasted too long for the Cruz campaign to feel comfortable, Texas’ hundreds of rural counties came in strong for the incumbent. At the time of the Associated Press call, Cruz was maintaining a lead of about two percentage points over O’Rourke.
Despite strong showings in the San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Austin, and El Paso metropolitan areas, O’Rourke couldn’t overcome simple math: There are many more Republicans in Texas. But Texas is changing, and O’Rourke’s campaign accelerated the timeline.
Cruz, who expected a serious challenge this cycle given his unsavory reputation among Democrats and a significant share of Republicans, ran a disciplined but straightforward campaign. O’Rourke was embraced early by progressives outside of Texas, but for most of the race, many Texans didn’t have a clue who he was. O’Rourke didn’t begin running advertisements until the summer. This allowed the Cruz campaign to introduce the El Paso congressman to the state on its own terms, defining him as too radical for Texans—on single-payer health care, abolishing ICE, impeaching the president, and so on. Cruz may come across as smarmy and calculated, but he knows how to stick to a message. He got the job done.
In recent days, there’s been an argument over whether O’Rourke “blew it” by focusing on a base-driven campaign rather than running to the center to attract more Republicans. In the long-run, this complaint is going to look silly. The coalition that O’Rourke put together of young people, transplants, minorities, and suburban women will one day have the numbers to produce a statewide Democratic winner in Texas. O’Rourke leaves that candidate an infrastructure that hadn’t previously existed.
O’Rourke performance is also helping Democratic candidates in metropolitan areas. In Texas’s 32nd District, in the Dallas suburbs, Colin Allred defeated longtime, powerful GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, and suburban Houston Rep. John Culberson is down to his Democratic challenger, Lizzie Fletcher, as I’m writing this post (Update, 11:12 p.m.: Fletcher won). Democrats are still holding strong in several other Republican districts, too.
Cruz may have won, but it’s still a good night for Texas Democrats.
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