By: Connor McNarin, Columnist
With regard to electoral politics at the national level, Democrats have had little to celebrate since President Obama’s 2008 victory. In 2010, House Democrats were thrashed by Republicans and ultimately lost a total of 63 seats. What is more, four years later, Democrats surrendered nine seats to their GOP counterparts in the Senate. And perhaps most dramatically, in 2016, Democrats lost arguably the most winnable presidential election in history to Donald J. Trump.
Needless to say, the Democratic Party has absorbed a significant blow to both its morale and overall governing capabilities. But an upcoming Senate race in Texas – one which most Republicans deemed safe just a few short months ago – has now thrown a wrinkle into the conventions of electoral politics and its regional implications.
Robert Francis O’Rourke, who is most commonly known by his nickname “Beto,” is challenging Ted Cruz from the left for one of Texas’ two Senate seats. While Beto, like most contemporary Democrats, espouses a host of views counter to those of the president, he has launched his campaign from a moderate position, namely to appeal to both a growing contingency of Hispanic voters and traditional swaths of white, southern Democrats and moderate Republicans.
It is quite easy to buy into the hype surrounding the young representative from Texas’ sixteenth district, as his lean frame and youthful features resemble those of other prominent politicians of yesteryear, including the notorious John Fitzgerald Kennedy. But while image and candidate optics are important contributors to electoral success, I hope to also briefly highlight particular policy positions taken by Beto that fundamentally outshine those espoused by the incumbent Cruz.
First, O’Rourke’s commitment to planet conservation and responsible energy use serve as the antithesis to Cruz’s strong relationship with fossil fuel companies. Second, O’Rourke has taken a hard line position on healthcare for all, a social policy that has received nearly unanimous public support in recent polling. Contrariwise, Senator Cruz is opposed to both President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medicaid.
Cruz’s opposition to Obama era healthcare initiatives does not jibe well with recent healthcare statistics, which indicate that Texas maintains one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of all Texans feel that the state has not done enough to aid low-income families in accessing affordable healthcare.
Last, O’Rourke has made a strong case for the protection of Latin American immigrants in the state of Texas, straying from the xenophobic rhetoric that is consistently peddled by both the president and other members of his party. According to O’Rourke’s campaign website, the candidate hopes to end the “militarization” of America’s immigration enforcement, pass the DREAM Act that would mandate protections for American “Dreamers,” and streamline processes for those immigrants seeking asylum.
The significance of the Texas Senate race is difficult to overstate. In fact, it has been 24 years since a Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas, yet in recent months, O’Rourke has brought the race to a near tie. For Democrats and progressive thinkers wallowing in both cynicism and fear, O’Rourke serves as a refreshing and candid example of what electoral politics is about.
Nearly a year ago, O’Rourke’s effort to unseat the incumbent Cruz was seen as a long shot at best, but his genuine campaigning style, mixed with his flexibility in policy and moderation in ideology, mount a significant and effective challenge to a senator with declining approval ratings.
Within the last decade, Democratic politics has suffered tremendously, both in its image and its efficacy in governing. But with the leadership of candidates like O’Rourke, the party may finally find a means through which it can effectively rebrand itself to win in areas both traditionally conservative and contemporarily liberal.