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Beto Outraises Bernie Despite Rocky Start

Beto's rock star image is reminiscent of Barack Obama, but can he overcome missteps?

In the four days since Beto O’Rourke announced his candidacy for president, his campaign has become embroiled in several controversies that may doom his chances even before he leaves the starting gate. Nevertheless, the level of donations that the campaign has received in its early hours indicate a high level of interest in the Texas candidate. It would be a mistake to write off the millennial presidential hopeful despite his campaign’s problems.

Beto’s campaign immediately suffered from a series of missteps as well as revelations about his past. One of the most shocking items is news of an article that he wrote as a teenager in which he fantasized about running over children with his car. The article was posted online for the Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacking group to which the candidate belonged.

“I’m mortified to read it now, incredibly embarrassed, but I have to take ownership of my words,” O’Rourke said of his teen writing in the Chicago Tribune. “Whatever my intention was as a teenager doesn’t matter, I have to look long and hard at my actions, at the language I have used, and I have to constantly try to do better.”

O’Rourke also had a lesson on the easily-offended nature of modern Democrats with a seemingly innocuous joke in which he said that his wife, Amy, was raising their three children “sometimes with my help.” Politico notes that the joke disappeared from later speeches after it was pointed out that the reference could reinforce gender stereotypes and O’Rourke apologized, saying that he would be “much more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage, and also the way in which I acknowledge the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege.”

The new candidate also faced down the media for what he called a misrepresentation of a statement to Vanity Fair. After telling the magazine that he was “just born to be in it,” Beto criticized the headline that quoted him as saying, “I’m just born to do this” and attempted to distance himself from the idea that he thinks he was born to be president.

“I saw the cover with that quote, ‘Born to run,’ or ‘Born to do this,’ and I was like, ‘Man, I hope I didn’t say that,’” O’Rourke told reporters in Wisconsin on Sunday. “I think the context of that, which makes sense, is the way that I feel, is that I’m born to serve, I’m born to try to help bring people together.”

He continued, “I don’t know that anyone is born for an office or a position, and I certainly am not. But I do think that I find my purpose and function in life in doing this kind of work.”

Aside from the gaffes and skeletons in the closet, the Beto campaign seems to rely more on style than substance. Just prior to his presidential announcement, O’Rourke apologized to a prominent Iowa Democrat for his lack of organization in the crucial early state and his campaign website rolled out with a complete inventory of Beto campaign gear but little in the way of policy positions.

“For all the fanfare, the band was playing a pretty flat tune,” Dave Nagle, Iowa state Democratic Party chairman and a former congressman, told Politico. “There’s just no substance to it.”

O’Rourke still does not have a campaign manager, but he does have experienced advisors. Norm Sterzenbach, a former executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party, and Paul Tewes, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 effort in Iowa, are helping O’Rourke organize in the Hawkeye state.

“So [O’Rourke] made some missteps,” said another Democratic strategist. “What really matters is when are you putting people on the ground and giving Norm some money to go hire them.”

Despite the missteps, the O’Rourke campaign brought in $6.1 million in its first 24 hours. Beto’s haul eclipses the $5.9 million raised by Bernie Sanders after his announcement and dwarfs the contributions received by other Democrats. For example, Kamala Harris received only $1.5 million following her announcement.

Beto is off to a rocky start but don’t count him out yet. The Texan’s rock star image generated more than $80 million in the 2018 election cycle per the FEC. His ability to generate huge contributions almost cost Ted Cruz his Senate seat. With President Trump’s approval in Texas underwater, an O’Rourke candidacy could put the Lone Star State in play for the first time since 1976.

In many ways, O’Rourke is reminiscent of Barack Obama in 2008, a relatively blank slate with rock star popularity. To capitalize on that popularity, however, Beto must get his campaign organized and show backers that he has the depth to mount a serious national campaign. Against Donald Trump, who also has a reputation as a candidate with a shallow understanding of policy and who is not popular with young or minority voters, Beto could be a formidable candidate.

At this point, the greatest threat to Beto is a Joe Biden candidacy. The former vice president, who has consistently led polling, has hinted that he will soon enter the race. Without Biden in the race, the non-Bernie vote will splinter between the numerous other candidates and O’Rourke has a chance to come out on top. If Biden does decide to run, however, he will be the odds-on favorite for the nomination. In that case, Beto, with his Texas roots and youthful charisma, would be a logical vice-presidential pick.

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