O’Rourke really did help to motivate a surge in young voter turnout in his Texas Senate race last year; voters aged 18-29 were 16 percent of the electorate in 2018 as compared to 13 percent in the previous midterm in 2014. And overall turnout was up 80 percent as compared with 2014. O’Rourke won young voters overwhelmingly, whereas in 2014, Democratic nominee David Alameel had actually lost that group to Republican incumbent John Cornyn. O’Rourke also has one of the better social media presences among the Democratic contenders.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party establishment has been encouraging O’Rourke to run, presumably because they see him as electable and potentially able to raise gargantuan sums of money for the party. Electability is a fuzzy concept, and one should be careful not to let “electable” become a synonym for “good-looking white guy” and vice versa. With that said, O’Rourke’s performance in Texas was quite strong relative to the partisanship of the state — even though he lost to Ted Cruz (by just under 3 percentage points), it was the best performance for a Democrat in a high-profile statewide Texas race in years. His policy views are a bit squishy, but that could also be an advantage of a sort — the same could be said of Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016.
There’s liable to be a Big Discussion at some point about Beto’s authenticity among Hispanic voters. O’Rourke has a Hispanic nickname, Beto, but his given first name is Robert and he doesn’t actually have any Hispanic ancestry. With that said, he represented a district in El Paso that is almost 80 percent Hispanic, and he beat an incumbent Hispanic Democrat to first win the seat in 2012. He also won 64 percent of the Hispanic vote against Cruz (who is Cuban-American2), which is pretty good in a state where the Hispanic vote can be more conservative than in other parts of the country. (Alameel won just 47 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2014, by contrast.)