Save Us, Texas: Beto O’Rourke offers hope in dark times.

On Saturday night, at the end of a hideous week in American politics, there was an unfamiliar feeling in Austin, Tex.: hope. More than 50,000 people streamed into a city park to hear music legend Willie Nelson perform at a rally with Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso who is running a strikingly competitive race against oleaginous ghoul Ted Cruz. Many were young — Nelson's set started after 10 p.m. — wearing Beto T-shirts and waving Beto flags. Nearby, a packed restaurant advertised "Beto beer." In the air was that slightly delirious energy you feel when a political campaign becomes a movement.

Shortly before the rally, I watched Evan Smith, chief executive and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, interview O'Rourke onstage at a nearby auditorium. It was uncanny how much the candidate recalled Barack Obama circa 2008, and not just because of his gawky magnetism. Like Obama, O'Rourke is unapologetically progressive but offers a vision of post-partisan national unity. He treats his audience as too savvy for political clichés. When Smith asked him if he planned to go negative against Cruz, he mocked attack ads with distorted pictures and ominous music. "We're sick of that stuff," he said, except he used a saltier term than "stuff."

Beto O'Rourke with the legendary Willie Nelson at a rally in Austin, Texas on Saturday night. 50,000 fans came.

Like Obama, O'Rourke is running on hope over fear; he exudes compassion and speaks about "power and joy." Christine Allison, a Republican-turned-independent, is president of the company that publishes D Magazine, a city magazine for Dallas, and one of O'Rourke's ardent supporters. "He listens," she told me, saying that he has what Christians sometimes call a "servant-leader approach to politics."

If O'Rourke wins — if power and joy are enough to oust a sneering right-wing demagogue like Cruz in a deep-red state — it will ratify a new theory of politics that's taken hold in Democratic circles since 2016. Like the gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia, O'Rourke is running a campaign based more on inspiration than persuasion. Rather than making narrowly targeted appeals to swing segments of the existing electorate, he seeks to turn out new voters, including young people and people of color.

"Our contention is that if no one's ever shown up, and listened to you, and incorporated your story into why they're campaigning, and the expectations that we're setting for one another, then I wouldn't expect you to vote either," O'Rourke told Smith on Saturday.

So instead of centrist triangulation, O'Rourke — like Abrams and Gillum — is speaking to the aspirations of his base, and betting that other voters will be won over by his honesty. He defended the right of N.F.L. players to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police killings of unarmed African-Americans, supports "Medicare for All," and slams Cruz for being in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. He's campaigning in a conservative state, but refusing to let the right set the terms of debate.

It's been working better than anyone could have expected. Though O'Rourke is still an underdog — Texas hasn't had a Democratic senator in 25 years — pollsters describe the race as a tossup. He has raised record-breaking sums without taking any money from political action committees. Soon his campaign will announce its third-quarter fund-raising results, and the rumor is that the total will be staggering, though all O'Rourke would say on stage is that it's "a lot," and more than the $10.4 million he raised last quarter.It helps that he seems to have the support of legions of urban and suburban women who abhor Donald Trump, some of whom, said Allison, have only recently "come out of the Democratic closet." These women "know how to fund-raise," she said. "They've been doing it for their fancy charities all their lives."

Whether or not O'Rourke wins, he's already come close enough to let us draw some preliminary lessons from his race, building on what we learned from Trump's awful victory. The most important is that you can't measure a candidate's viability by charting his or her ideology on a graph. We live in the age of analytics, but intangible things like charisma and authenticity still matter tremendously.

O'Rourke had been scheduled to debate Cruz on Sunday evening, but on Thursday Cruz asked for a postponement, thinking he needed to stay in Washington for the vote on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. When it became clear the vote wasn't happening, Cruz offered to go forward with the matchup, but O'Rourke said it was too late. Instead, he went on Facebook Live — a medium he favors — to address supporters who had gathered for debate watch parties.

There, in real time, he recorded a campaign spot responding to Republican attack ads, doing four takes as viewers offered their instant feedback. "We can be defined by our fears, or we can be known by our ambitions," he said, urging voters not to see one another as Democrats or Republicans, "but as Texans, Americans and human beings." I'm not nearly as confident as O'Rourke that our partisan hatreds can be transcended. But it's been a while since I've seen a campaign so optimistic and innovative that I've wanted to put my cynicism aside. In fact, it's been exactly 10 years.

Michelle Goldberg, New York Times, October 1, 2018


October 2, 2018

Post Script. Beto can win in Texas. I repeat, in Texas. He will be a great Senator for the Lone Star State but also for all Americans. Donate, even $5.

Oct. 9 is the last day to register.

Early voting begins Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 6 #SenateBlue #Midterms2018

Here is a list of the Senators we are supporting including some incumbent Democratic Senators who could use support so we can take back the Senate. #TakeItBack

Kyrsten Sinema AZ

Jackey Rosen NV

McCaskill Missouri

Heidkamp Heidi North Dakota

Nelson, Bill Florida

Beto O'Rourke Tx

Tammy Baldwin WI

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