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article imageDespite failed Senate bid, a Texas Democrat rises to prominence

By Michael Mathes (AFP)     Nov 7, 2018 in Politics

Democrat Beto O'Rourke may have fallen just short Tuesday in his longshot bid to win a Senate seat in red Texas, but the onetime punk musician has cemented his rockstar status as a force in American politics.

He was an under-the-radar congressman two years ago with few political accomplishments but agreeability and passion to burn.

Now, even as he failed to topple Senator Ted Cruz, the 46-year-old's campaign of inclusion has helped catapult him to national prominence at a time when Democrats are on the lookout for a fresh face who could mount a challenge to President Donald Trump in 2020.

Beto, as everyone calls him, has been on the campaign trail relentlessly over the past 20 months, hitting all 254 counties in Texas with a post-partisan platform that recalls the grand optimistic vision of America promoted a decade ago by a young Barack Obama.

Amid the current toxic politics of division, Beto's appeal for common ground resonated across The Lone Star State, perhaps more than analysts expected.

"My faith in this state and this people as a country is in no way diminished at this moment," the candidate told cheering supporters at his concession speech, invoking the inspirational language of an American politician in the spotlight.

"I know that we will continue to work to come together, to make sure that we live up to the promise and the potential of this country."

His alluring rejection of status quo politics, including a pledge to eschew corporate or PAC money, ultimately inspired supporters in Texas and beyond to help lead O'Rourke to raise tens of millions of dollars from personal donations.

Much of that money came from outside Texas, signalling he could potentially be a future fundraising juggernaut.

- Liberal gamble -

Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke lost his US Senate race in the midterm election on November 6  ...
Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke lost his US Senate race in the midterm election on November 6, 2018, but his campaign of inclusion thrust him onto the national political stage
CHIP SOMODEVILLA, GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

But while he made a point of reaching out to Texans of all ideological stripes, O'Rourke refused to tilt his politics towards the middle, instead maintaining a liberal agenda that would make most Republicans squirm.

He has called for Trump's impeachment, a step the Democratic leadership in Congress has largely avoided.

While Cruz vilified "Obamacare" during the campaign, O'Rourke appealed for expanded health coverage, endorsing the "Medicare for all" plan popularized by Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed Democratic socialist.

He supports a halt on sales of military-style semi-automatic rifles, wants a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the country, and has expressed openness to the idea of abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency -- under fire for its aggressive deportation policy -- if its duties could be handled elsewhere.

And he was not afraid to wade into one of Trump's signature controversies by offering a robust defense of black American football players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

O'Rourke's comments on the issue during his campaign, captured in a video that went viral, helped rocket him to broader prominence.

For every Texan turned off by O'Rourke's liberalism, he likely gained a voter frustrated with Cruz's hyperpartisanship and concerned more about lowering the toxic tone in Washington.

It was a gamble that came close to paying off, as his margin of defeat was narrower than any other Democrat running for statewide office in two decades.

Through it all, Beto appeared to be enjoying himself -- even as he sweated through his blue cotton Oxford shirts during rally after rally in the searing Texas heat.

He could be seen skateboarding on the campaign trail. He jammed onstage with irreverent country music legend and supporter Willie Nelson.

With talk of 2020 swirling in recent weeks, O'Rourke himself offered a resolute no.

"I will not be a candidate for president in 2020," O'Rourke told an MSNBC reporter on the campaign trail this week. "That's as definitive as it gets."

But he left the door open for future political action, saying members of his campaign team "will continue to aspire to do great things."

His closing message: "We will see you out there, down the road."

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