Dreaming in Dallas

On November 7 I flew back from Dallas to Baltimore after a week knocking on doors for Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate run against Republican Ted Cruz. I was part of a group of about 40 people headquartered at a Beto pop-up office at the Marriott Courtyard at Spring Valley in Richardson—where staff  were incredibly friendly to the dozens of volunteers coming and going.  We were all dreaming that 2018 would be the year that Texas voters would show that Texas, was not a Red state—but a non-voting state that, when it finally voted, could be blue.  This mantra has basis in fact.  See: “Texas is Not a Red State–It’s a Non-voting State.”While ultimately Beto did not pull off a win, he came within 2.6 percent of Cruz, showing that things are changing in Texas.  It is no overstatement to say that in losing his Senate race, Beto drove turnout and helped many down-ballot Dems defeat supposedly entrenched Republicans in both federal and state offices.Some of the best—and worst—2018 Texas mid-term postmortems were in The Atlantic. I have selected some of those I think worth reading.  This commentary got it:  “What Beto Won“.  But David Frum, an often astute observer for the Reasonable Right, misconstrued the outcome–concluding that Beto’s loss meant he was not a viable 2020 presidential candidate. “Beto’s Loss was a Blessing in Disguise for the Democrats.” The reality is that Beto’s loss has left him free to run for President in 2020.  Perhaps the most wrong-headed commentary was by Elaina Plott, also in The Atlantic: “Beto O’Rourke’s National Celebrity was His Undoing.”

The turnout issues that were partially defied in this year’s Texas mid-terms are a study in how to legally discourage voting to keep power. A good analysis of just how difficult Texas has made voting—and how the landscape is shifting—was written by The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer on November 5—one day before the Election—captured the Zeitgeist better than anyone. “Something’s Happening in Texas.”

But back to my experience on the ground.  We canvassed daily in various suburbs around Dallas, and on Election Day, on the light rail (DART)  and elsewhere. I ultimately spent that last day walking around downtown Dallas talking to dozens of potential voters. That experience, and the many conversations I had on the doorsteps of other Texans, were encouraging in many ways. Despite the “Us vs. Them” narrative in the press, I found very little hostility—exactly ONCE did someone raise their voice and ask me to leave their property.  Considering I knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors, and spoke with people across the political spectrum, that is remarkable.

Beto’s unusual likability and authenticity did not go unnoticed—even by some who ultimately voted for Cruz. I had quite a few conversations that went something like this:  “I’m a Republican and I’m voting for Cruz, but I admire how Beto has run this campaign.”  I also had a number of conversations that went something like this: “I’m a Republican and this will be the first time I’ve voted for a Democrat.”  I did hear stories from some Beto supporters of getting their lawn sings stolen —but they were few and far between.

If you watched the last debate between Beto and Cruz, you could see that Beto was uncomfortable “going low”—when he trotted out how the label “lying Ted” stuck because Cruz often said one thing and did another. (While factually correct, it ill-suited O’Rourke—and it seemed clear to me that rather than relying on his gut, he had taken an advisor’s advice.) That was the only time that Beto went low—and it was dissonant.  Cynics may discount Beto’s natural idealism and warmth, but it was on display after the election, where he showed grace in defeat during a chance meeting at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

During the final leg of the campaign, Beto held a rally at a small, locally-owned record shop called Good Records in the Greenville section of Dallas—and while I don’t remember everything he said, I do remember him saying that while not everything he put forth would always “poll well” it was the right thing to do.  He also spoke enthusiastically about promoting wind and solar in Texas (did you know that Texas is the clear leader in wind energy and fifth in solar?).  He also pointed to the state’s lagging behind in marijuana policy, and made a case for compassion and law in how we treat immigrants and asylum seekers.  This is one of my photographs from the rally.

Beto rally at Good Records in Dallas’s Greenville neighborhood on November 3, 2018

As I sit in my kitchen in my small Baltimore rowhouse on December 4 with my parrot Lenny looking over my shoulder, I am starting to feel that things are beginning to settle.  The metaphor that comes to mind is that of watching muddy water slowly start to clarify.  It’s a slow process—and it is easy for the water to become cloudy again—but the end result will be clarity.

Two weeks ago I would have been hesitant to predict that Beto would throw his hat in the 2020 presidential ring, but that now looks like the way things are going. And if I am going to prognosticate, I predict that among the finishers will be Sherrod Brown. Those who worry about Hillary Clinton are wasting anxiety—she will not get any meaningful support. I don’t see Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders really gaining traction, either, and doubt that Kamala Harris will be the nominee.  My pick for the biggest sleeper candidate is U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, who is by far Minnesota’s most popular elected official—-and who blew away her republican opponent by 24 percentage points—and acquitted  herself admirably in the supercharged Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings.

That Klobuchar is mulling a 2020 presidential bid is well founded. On a Saturday on the first day of December 2018, she showed up in Iowa to speak to the Iowa Farmers Union. As Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported, Klobuchar alluded to the 2020 race, commenting that “Obviously people have been talking to me about this, including down here, but I don’t have any announcements to make today.”

As we get further into the 2020 primary season (and, yes, it has already started), I will share my reflections and predictions with whomever happens to tune into this blog. I will also share various and sundry other topics that I think may be of interest to someone out there in the blogosphere.

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