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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Got His Mojo Workin’

February 13, 2019

While he is undeclared and maybe too far left for all of America, Courthouse News staff in Texas see a candidate who rocks the house.

Bill Girdner

By Bill Girdner

Editor of Courthouse News Service.

The Trump presidency still has plenty of damage left in it.

But it will be primarily through rule changes, like the move by the current EPA head and former oil and gas lobbyist to eliminate protection for small fish in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Otherwise the Trump presidency is starting to feel like a curiosity in the modern period of American history, one that is fast losing its interest. Public attention is already pivoting to the slew of Democrats throwing their hat in the presidential ring.

So I was going down that list of names and eliminating one after another: lefty fringe, too obscure, too slick by half. No name was jumping out.

But then I saw some statistics on small donors on the Democratic side. The grand old man of that business, Bernie Sanders, is way out ahead with 2.1 million small donors since 2012.

But coming in a strong second was Beto O’Rourke with 743,000, more than twice the number of donors for the next closest, Elizabeth Warren.

Beto O'Rourke. (AP file photo, Carolyn Kaster)

In the overall effort to move our news coverage forward, I have told Courthouse News reporters to pay attention to what happens around them, the little stuff they see, the stories they hear at the bar, at dinner, in the kitchen, because they can be the tells for something bigger.

Last fall, I was at a fundraiser at a movie actor’s home in Pasadena, and one of the guests was saying he had watched a Willie Nelson concert in Austin where O’Rourke made an appearance. The guest, who was also in show business, seemed to be in some awe as to the reaction O’Rourke had brought from the crowd.

I stored that anecdote away.

“Yeah there is something a little magical about him,” wrote Madison Venza, our bureau chief in Texas. “Many lifelong Republicans in Texas voted for him because he showed up and took a personal interest in people and places where they had never seen their congressman. He gets the people that have never voted – the people who have never cared before.”

The discussion came about because O’Rourke had reminded me of RFK, the lean and youthful appearance, the open mien, something unvarnished, unfiltered in his expression, an idealist you could believe in.

But our webpage editor dismissed him as too far out on the left. Joe Biden was the man, the editor said, the working-class guy who could pull away Trump’s working-class supporters.

So I asked the Courthouse News reporter in Austin who covered O’Rourke’s mano-a-mano rally on the same night and in the same city as the Trump Show this week, the dueling events an obvious foreshadowing of events yet to unfold.

What are his planks, I asked the reporter.

“Beto definitely pitched progressive issues on the campaign trail – gun control, climate change, abortion rights – that proved far too left for Texas,” wrote Erik de la Garza. “But I think a national Beto campaign would be something to watch for one simple reason: people LOVE Beto, especially after watching him speak.

“I’ve talked to people who have never even voted or been to any kind of political rally but were fascinated by Beto last year,” he wrote. “And then there’s his fundraising ability.”

Indeed, the fuel of politics.

I saw the clips of O’Rourke at the Austin rally, chanting “Si se puede,” diving headlong into the confrontation on immigration, which I think is right where the Republicans want the battle to take place. And I contrasted that choice with Nancy Pelosi’s highly disciplined campaign to put a majority in the House of Representatives last fall, based on planks that covered the sweet spot in American politics.

She pressed her crew to campaign on health care, better pay, infrastructure and “corruption,” which seemed to mean an amalgam of Russian and special interests. Based on the flood of new Democratic congress members, why would a Democrat want to mess with that playbook.

But O’Rourke is going his own way. And who knows. Because he’s definitely got some mojo working.

“Even lots of older people are excited about him,” wrote Venza, our bureau chief. “My hometown, which is typically Republican, went for him, and my mom and all her friends were lined up the first day of early voting to vote for him.”

Categories / Op-Ed, Politics

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