Despite Loss in Senate Race, A National Star Emerges in Texas
EL PASO, TEXAS —
Shouts of “Beto 2020!” filled the air in El Paso’s 7,000 seat-capacity baseball stadium, after their underdog candidate for U.S. Senate — Beto O’Rourke — had already lost the race.
On Tuesday night, “Beto,” a 46-year-old congressman from Texas’ 16th district, lost his bid to unseat the incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, by a three-point margin, with 92 percent of precincts counted.
AP called the race at 9:27 p.m. local, but in West Texas’ Southwest University Park, the crowd of faithful El Pasoans stayed another hour, awaiting the hometown favorite.
“Look at all the people here,” said 21-year-old Karla Amador, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso. “El Paso never votes; we’re the lowest of voter turnout. Look at the turnout. This is amazing.”
A little after 10 p.m., O’Rourke came on stage, and so did the tears.
“It hurts. … I worked for Beto harder than I’ve worked for anyone,” said Alta Compton, who spent a year-and-a-half volunteering for the O’Rourke campaign. “It made me realize that I wasn’t alone in Texas, that there are democrats, there are liberals, and we have a voice.”
‘A battle of ideas’
In Houston, 1,182 kilometers southeast of El Paso, Senator Cruz called the election “a battle of ideas” during his victory speech. Among his own ideas: “more jobs, more security, more freedom.”
“It was a contest for who we are and what we believe,” Cruz told his supporters. “It was a contest and the people of Texas decided this race.”
An intimate crowd of constituents at the El Paso County Republican headquarters gathered in confidence and ate cake as the night unfolded.
In interviews with VOA, Republicans shared the same priority: an opposition to “open borders.”
“This is dead wrong. You come to a place, whatever country, and you have to do it correctly, or you just don’t get in,” El Paso resident Cynthia Lyman said.
“I think seniors such as myself are frankly not going to allow this country being thrown off the cliff, and it didn’t start with O’Rourke,” Lyman added. “It started with [former President] Obama.”
Cruz, who emerged as a beneficiary of the Tea Party movement, said O’Rourke "poured his heart" into the campaign. The senator has held the position for one term after he won the seat in 2012.
He did, however, criticize the amount of money funneled into his opponent’s campaign.
"We saw a $100 million race with Hollywood coming in against the state, with the national media coming in against the state. But all the money in the world was no match for the good people of Texas and their hard work,” Cruz said.
Politifact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials, reported that O’Rourke did not receive money from private corporations.
“Cruz’s victory means everything to me,” said David Zamora. “I’m a proud Texan, and I believe he represents everything that this state is all about.”
‘A future for Beto’
“When Beto entered this race a year or so ago, we were all horrified that he would give up his seat in Congress to run for a position that he couldn’t possibly won,” said Martha Hood, at the O’Rourke rally. “And look what he’s done.”
I think there’s a future for Texas. I think there’s a future for Beto,” Hood added.
O’Rourke lost the battle, but voters’ showing at the polls reverberated in down-ballot races. Texas democrats picked up two seats in the Texas state Senate, wearing away at its conservative base majority.
Nationwide, democrats were on track to secure enough seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to shift the balance of power in Congress, and provide a check on President Trump’s presidency.
Driven by a record-setting war chest of $70 million in donations, many of them contributions of $25 or less, supporters in the democratic town of El Paso feel “Beto’s” name is about to become more common.
With more than 90 percent of precincts counted, O’Rourke received 74.4 percent of votes in his hometown of El Paso to Cruz’s 25 percent, as reported by The Texas Tribune.
By night’s end, O'Rourke's election night party became a rally of hope for the party’s future. In his concession speech, O’Rourke reminded his followers to define themselves by hard work and a willingness to achieve goals.
“To build a campaign like this one solely comprised of people from all walks of life, coming together, deciding what unites us is far stronger than the color of our skin, how many generations we can count ourselves an American, or whether we just got here yesterday, who we love, we pray to, whether we pray at all, who we voted for last time, none of it matters,” O’Rourke said.
As some speculated O'Rourke’s chances for president in 2020, the defeated candidate offered few clues with regard to his future.
“We will see you out there, down the road,” O’Rourke said.