By Luke Stone ‘20
In a political era marked by deception and distrust on both sides of the aisle, Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke ‘91’s candid, improvised riffs captured at livestreamed town halls on his Senate campaign have motivated Democratic voters in his native Texas for the first time in years.
“Because [Beto] truly believes what he says and says what he believes, he comes off as authentic and approachable. He has gone to every county in Texas and recognizes that every vote counts,” Walker Carter ‘91 said.
Although O’Rourke is a unique figure on the national stage, Carter and his classmate, Emrah Gultekin ‘91, say that his charisma is nothing new.
“He has always been capable of [connecting with people]. Even when he was at Woodberry, he always had this innate ability to discuss his ideas and display his intelligence,” Gultekin said. “After he decided to go into public service in the early 2000s, that ability has helped him become more successful.”
As his campaign picked up steam, more and more members of the extended Woodberry community surfaced to help their fellow Tiger.
“A number of our classmates helped set up a fundraiser for Beto in DC several months ago. A lot of guys came to show their support, and those who couldn’t make it still contributed anyway. Certain classmates have also lended their support through their businesses,” Carter said. “One guy, for example, offered to spearhead Beto’s merchandising operation. Others, like myself, Spencer Beard ‘91, and Tommy Perkins ‘93, have gone to Texas to help out with canvassing and phone banks.”
Gultekin and Carter also credited his success to his somewhat anti-establishment personality, particularly around special interests.
“Beto has distanced himself from special interests because he recognizes that they can really take control of what you’re doing and dictate some of your policies,” Gultekin said. “If he should win in November, his stance against the Super PACs and lobbying groups will enable him to truly be able to represent the people of Texas.”
One of the most unique parts of that anti-establishmentism is O’Rourke’s willingness to work across party lines on certain issues. In March 2017, O’Rourke’s flight to DC was cancelled, but he still had to make it up for a vote. In order to make it, he and Republican Congressman Will Hurd rented a car and road tripped to the Capitol in time for the vote.
“With time, all of us tend to become more moderate, and Beto is no exception. Since we’ve graduated, his opinions have become more well-rounded and shaped,” Gultekin said. While he’s still very strong in his convictions, he recognizes that progress sometimes requires flexibility and compromise.”
Despite his shying away from special interest groups, O’Rourke has still managed to fundraise vast amounts of money. An October 17 report from the Center for Responsible Politics found that 45% ($31 million) of his $69 million fundraising total came from small contributions of under $200 per person. According to his website, he has not taken any money from PACs.
While Beto is performing better than any Texan Democratic Senate candidate in recent memory, upsetting incumbent Senator Ted Cruz is a tall order. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Analytics site FiveThirtyEight only gives O’Rourke a twenty-percent chance to win the seat, and a recent poll from Emerson College has Cruz up 50-47, with the election just days away. Although victory is looking less and less likely, Carter remained optimistic.
“I think that he has it in him to win this race, mostly because of the enthusiasm surrounding his campaign. No one has mobilized for Cruz the way people have mobilized to help Beto,” Carter said. “People of all walks of life, across all different classes, races, and backgrounds, have dropped everything to help him win this race. No one on Cruz’s side has been as motivated as those on Beto’s side have been.”