One of the biggest pitfalls of O’Rourke’s campaign was that there appeared to be no sincere effort to reach such voters. “Despite all of Cruz’s problems—and there are plenty—here’s a guy who’s running around talking about Medicare for all, and impeaching Trump, and abolishing ICE. And it’s killing him,” Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to George W. Bush, told Politico. “Even for people who dislike Cruz, impeaching Trump strikes many of them as terrible for the country. I’ve got friends and family members who may not vote for Cruz. They don’t like Cruz. But Beto isn’t contesting [Cruz for] them. I mean, it’s just weird.”
But this is the rub for Republicans: Ultimately, O’Rourke lost by just a two-point margin, making the race far closer than expected. It’s tough not to wonder, then, what this race might have looked like had O’Rourke courted the center. Would it look like Lizzie Fletcher’s, another talented progressive besting a conservative name-brand? Would the presidential-year-like turnout of new voters, young voters, and minority voters merely sweetened a victory, rather than ensure a less painful beating?
These are the questions Texas Republicans must interrogate moving forward. In vastly underestimating turnout across the state, Republicans hadn’t just laid the groundwork for a potentially humiliating loss. Much more crucially, they’d revealed, perhaps, how little they understand the state itself. Because while Texas is far from blue today, Tuesday showed that there are plenty of voters—millions, in fact—who are eager to make it so tomorrow.