Obama praises Beto as 'an impressive young man who ran a terrific' — and compares O'Rourke to himself

“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizeable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant."

Beto O'Rourke and Barack Obama

Had Rep. Beto O’Rourke run for a U.S. Senate seat in a deep blue state like California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont or New Jersey—or even a swing state such as Pennsylvania or Nevada—he probably would have enjoyed a double-digit victory. But the Democratic congressman from El Paso attempted something much more difficult in the 2018 midterms: he tried to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, ultimately losing to him by only 3%. And O’Rourke’s political skills were applauded by former President Barack Obama in a November 20 interview for David Axelrod’s podcast, “The Axe Files.”

Obama, during the interview, described O’Rourke as an “impressive young man who ran a terrific race in Texas.” The former president told Axelrod, “What I liked most about his race was that it didn't feel constantly poll-tested. It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly, it’s not.”

This was high praise coming from a figure as historic as Obama, who in 2008, defeated a political giant—the late Arizona Sen. John McCain—and became the U.S.’ first African-American president before winning a second term when he defeated Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Obama, in fact, saw some parallels between O’Rourke’s Texas Senate run and his groundbreaking 2008  campaign.

Obama asserted, “The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizeable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant. And that’s a quality that, as I look at what I’m sure will be a strong field of candidates in 2020—many of whom are friends of mine and whom I deeply respect—what I oftentimes am looking for first and foremost is: do you seem to mean it? Are you in this thing ‘cause you have a strong set of convictions that you are willing to risk things for?”

And O’Rourke, Obama told Axelrod, fit that description.

Although Cruz was reelected, the fact that the 2018 Texas Senate race was as close as it was demonstrates that while Texas is a red state, it is by no means the reddest of the red states—especially in comparison to Utah, Nebraska, Idaho or Wyoming. In 2016, President Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 9% in Texas; in Nebraska, Trump won by 26%. Obama didn’t carry Texas in either 2008 or 2012, but he performed well in major cities like Houston, Austin and El Paso—all of which were quite receptive to O’Rourke as well. If there had been a low turnout in a lot of rural counties in North Texas and Central Texas in the 2018 midterms and only Texas’ major urban centers had showed up on Election Day, O’Rourke would have won.

Axelrod is a former Obama strategist and a frequent CNN contributor.

 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.