Here we go: Beto O'Rourke no longer ruling out a presidential run

You should hope it happens. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to an “Obama vs. Trump” election.

“I will not be a candidate for president in 2020,” said O’Rourke to MSNBC the day before the midterms. He made it exactly three weeks before hedging on that, a flip-flop performed with speed that can only be described as Gillibrand-esque.

The difference between the two of them being that there actually is some demand for a Beto candidacy on the left whereas the only person who’s dreaming of a Kirsten Gillibrand presidency is Kirsten Gillibrand.

He said Monday he will finish his term in the House in January and focus with his wife and children on “being together as a family” until then.

“And then Amy and I will think about what we can do next to contribute to the best of our ability to this community,” he said, when asked about a 2020 run by an attendee at a town hall in El Paso that was broadcast live on O’Rourke’s Facebook page.

He then turned to his wife and asked, “Was that OK?”

CNN notes that he said of his family a few weeks ago, “We’ve spent the better part of the last two years not with each other, missing birthdays and anniversaries, and time together. Our family could not survive more of that. We need to be together.” Families come and go, I guess, but presidential runs are forever. When you have money in the bank, a mailing list worth its weight in gold, and all kinds of good press, including from the last Democratic president, it’s hard to say no. I don’t think O’Rourke cranked out this new blog post on the caravan simply because the need to write overcame him, let’s just say. (If you don’t want to click: Yes, he wants all migrants seeking asylum admitted to the U.S. while their claims are pending. No, he doesn’t appear to envision any limits on the numbers potentially admitted.)

Speaking of Obama, one of his former advisors has a piece out today making the case for O’Rourke 2020. Given that Obama’s VP is a likely entrant into the race, Dan Pfeiffer’s interest in Betomania seems notable:

First, the best campaigns marry enthusiasm and organization. Any smart campaign with competent staff can build a top-flight organization, but enthusiasm is not something that can be engineered in a lab. It is spontaneous and only a few candidates are able to inspire it. Enthusiasm means more volunteers, more first time voters, and more grassroots donations.

I have never seen a Senate candidate—including Obama in 2004—inspire the sort of enthusiasm that Beto did in his race. This is about more than Lebron wearing a Beto hat, or Beyonce sporting one on Instagram. It’s about the people all over the country with no connection to Texas with signs in their yards and stickers on their cars. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who gave small dollar donations because they were inspired by his candidacy and moved by his pledge not to take PAC money. It’s about the crowds of thousands in small towns that would turn out to hear him speak on rainy weeknights. It’s about the passionate army of volunteers who knocked doors, made calls, and sent text messages. He built a national grassroots movement for change and many of those people are waiting to be called into duty and head to Iowa and New Hampshire. The enthusiasm is real and matters. If Beto were to go to Iowa City next week, I am confident he would draw a crowd three times larger than any candidate has since Obama first stumped there.

It’s not just lefties who think O’Rourke, who visited every county in Texas and held countless townhalls, is especially well suited to the kingmaking caucuses of Iowa. “The Democrats don’t have anybody like him,” said Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, to Politico a few weeks ago. “I’ve seen all of them. They don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa in 453 days.” Would there be a “niche” for O’Rourke in a Democratic primary, though? He can’t run as “the progressive candidate”; most of them are running as progressives, and Bernie Sanders’s fans in particular seem willing to accept no substitute. Beto would be a nobody next to Joe Biden in terms of name recognition. And as a middle-aged white guy, he’d have none of the pathbreaking appeal of the women candidates. To believe O’Rourke can win, you have to believe that sheer charisma is capable of propelling him past all of that. It was for Obama in 2008, but Obama had a pathbreaking narrative of his own and his charisma competition was, errrrrr, Hillary Clinton. Much heavier lift for O’Rourke.

But then a splintered field has its advantages too. Could Beto win Iowa with 18 percent? That’s all it might take if 15 candidates are in contention.

For all the hype about him replicating the Obama formula, though, there’s one crucial way in which the first B.O. and the second B.O. are dissimilar. The NYT flagged an amazing number from the exit polls about O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum: “[I]n rural county after rural county, this trio of next-generation Democrats performed worse than President Barack Obama did in 2012.” In fact, it’s worse than that:

Yes, really. O’Rourke, the liberal phenomenon, did worse than Cruz’s no-name opponent six years ago in rural areas despite nearly winning the election outright. Despite his reputation on the right as an Ivory Tower cosmopolitan, Obama did well enough among rural voters in 2008 and 2012 to win the presidency comfortably twice. Trump’s key to success in 2016 was converting some of those working-class Obama voters to Trump voters, which is how the blue wall fell in the midwest. For whatever reason, possibly having less to do with O’Rourke (or Gillum or Abrams) than with America’s growing cultural divide, rural voters aren’t as interested in Democrats anymore as they were when Obama topped the ticket.

Bernie fans will remind the competition of that frequently over the next year — in order to compete nationally, the party simply must nominate someone whose economic populism can grab the attention of rural voters. Fight Trump on his own turf, in other words, and count on urban liberals to turn out in droves for the Democratic nominee like they always do. Whereas if Beto’s the nominee, the strategy might be completely different: Essentially Democrats would cede those rural voters to Trump and instead simply try to outdo them by turning out their own urban base in historic numbers. That’s what ended up happening in Texas, a red stronghold, and O’Rourke nearly pulled it off. If he’s nominated, 2020 might end up as young city slickers versus older country boys. Whoever’s turnout is more ferocious wins.

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