Beto O’Rourke is running to replace Ted Cruz. Literally. Sweat pours off his lean, 6-foot-4-inch frame as the El Paso Democrat jogs along the southern bank of the Trinity River surrounded by 300-odd supporters and curious voters jogging along with him. Incredibly, they have shown up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday to join him for a double shot of politics and cardio. In between panting breaths, O’Rourke explains to me the origins of this novel campaign event, which has him running several miles under the Texas sun, stopping in the middle to take questions and lingering at the end to pose for selfies. “Some sadistic member of our team,” he recalls, “was like, ‘So we’re doing like six town halls a day in six different counties. We’re driving hundreds of miles every day, we’re visiting all 254 counties. What more could we do? Ah, get up earlier and have running town halls.’”
This, in short, is how O’Rourke plans to pull off his long-shot bid to take away Cruz’s Senate seat: by outhustling his opponent. O’Rourke, a third-term congressman, often boasts that he has hired no consultants or pollsters. He is his own strategist, and his strategy is simple: campaign relentlessly, project vitality and hope his raw charisma combines in just the right proportion with anti-Cruz animus, Texas’ changing demographics and national Democratic momentum to put him over the top.
It’s a lot to hope for. Cruz is among the country’s shrewdest politicians. He may be reviled in Washington and on the left, but his approval rating remains above water in most polls of Texas, which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. Liberals have been fantasizing about turning the state blue for a decade, to no avail. And Cruz retains a double-digit lead in recent polls.
But something is catching here. Fueled by millions in small-dollar donations, O’Rourke is outraising Cruz. In recent weeks, President Donald Trump’s policy of separating migrant families detained at the border has given his campaign a jolt of moral clarity. And voters are responding in a way that Texas Democrats say they have not seen before in modern times.
Over a weekend of campaigning in late June, O’Rourke drew thousand-strong crowds in hundred-degree-plus heat, two ambulances were called and chants of “Be-to” rang out—the sorts of scenes that are unheard of for a Senate campaign five months before Election Day. Texas, though, is still a big state with a lot of Republicans, and the race will test whether the only thing crazier than O’Rourke’s crowds is the idea that a liberal Democrat can run, drive and charm his way into Cruz’s Senate seat.
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