Thursday, October 11, 2018

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Whether Beto O'Rourke wins or loses, he will certainly have made a name for himself.  He has been dogging Ted Cruz since Spring in Texas, covering the huge state county by county like no Democrat has done before.  Beto wants Texans to know that Democrats care, even if Republicans continue to paint them as effete liberals.

This has been an unusual race in many ways, as it has come down to who is more Texan -- Beto or Ted?  Beto was born and raised in El Paso, a fourth generation Irish-American, who became a Tejano of sorts by absorbing the customs and language of his classmates.  Ted comes from a Cuban-American background, who was born in Calgary and eventually relocated to Houston with his family.  Ted never had any need to learn Spanish, as he went to Baptist private schools, but seemed to absorb just enough that he can follow what is said around him.

Ted appeals principally to white Texas voters and a relative handful of conservative Tejanos, and has the demographics of the state working for him.  Beto is hoping to take advantage of the unrest and sense of displacement in rural Texas counties that haven't significantly benefited from nearly 25 years of Republicanism in the state.

It was another transplant, George Bush, who improbably beat the popular Democratic governor Ann Richards back in 1994.  Texas hasn't had a Democratic US Senator since 1993.

Beto knows the odds are stacked against him, but is using his huge personality to make up for the large gap.  Some polls have him even or even slightly ahead of Ted.  Others have him nine points behind.

Ted is taking no chances, calling in the Republican cavalry to bail him out, as if he was going up against Gen. Santa Anna.  This in itself is testimony to how deep Beto has reached into Texan politics to rattle the incumbent senator so badly.

The first and what seems only debate saw the two trade barbs with no clear winner.  Ted has since backed out of a CNN Town Hall, with the news network ceding the hour to Beto, giving him unprecedented national exposure in a state race.  I guess Ted thought he had said enough or was worried he might not hold up in a format that definitely favored Beto.  Will this give Beto the boost he needs to get him over the top?

Democrats are looking at this race not only as a potential gain in the US Senate but as a harbinger for 2020, as Donald Trump is definitely on the ballot here.

Ted solicited the help of the whole Trump family, with Donnie Jr. going down to Texas as well.  This would seem odd given that Trump repeatedly called him a liar during the 2016 campaign, said his wife was ugly, and claimed his father had a hand in killing JFK.  Ted is either the most forgiving guy in the world or is so desperate he will turn to the one man who might give his sagging campaign a lift.  So, if Ted goes down, so too does Donald.

By contrast, Beto is relying largely on his charisma, and support of popular Texans like Willie Nelson.  He has a genuine empathy for the people of the state, something sorely lacking in Ted, who was a GOP establishment candidate from the get-go, hand picked by Gov. "Wheels" Abbott.  Beto has represented his Democratic district well in the US House of Representatives, but rather than seek another easy re-election, went after the big prize, hoping to make Texas "Blue" again.

Texas hasn't really benefited from a generation of Republican governors and legislators, certainly nothing like it did when it had Democrats like Lyndon B. Johnson in the Senate, who brought the space program to Houston along with a number of other defense contracts.  This was a state that was so reliably Blue that John F. Kennedy, a liberal Catholic, won Texas in 1960.  Of course, it helped having LBJ as his running mate.

Beto has been compared to JFK, and has garnered the support of the Kennedy family, with young Joe Kennedy joining him on a ride through Texas.  The last time the Kennedys took this much interest in a young candidate it was Barack Obama in 2008.

It almost seems fated that Beto will win, but this is Texas and the GOP political machine is a mighty force to contend with in the state.  Whatever the case, Beto can hold his head up high as he has made a name for himself and given the Democrats one of the most fun rides it has seen in the last ten years.

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