But since O’Rourke took the players’ side while conceding that “reasonable people can disagree on this issue,” his poll numbers have gone up. He is now within single digits of the incumbent, Cruz.

The video showing O’Rourke speaking in defense of the players’ “non-violent protests” attracted national attention. He appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ morning talk show. He also won approving tweets from celebrities like LeBron James who tweeted “A Must Watch!!! Salute @BetoORourke for the candid thoughtful words!”

“We don’t know if Beto can pull this off,” former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau said on his podcast, “but the campaign that he is running and how he answers questions, and how he talks about issues, that is the model for candidates in 2018 and 2020, whether or not he pulls this off.”