20/20 Foresight – A Weekly Glimpse at Your Candidates

This Week: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Beto O’Rourke

El Paso native and Democratic candidate, Beto O’Rourke seems to have all the things liberals look for in a nominee. He’s a strong advocate for gun control, a federal $15/hour minimum wage, elimination of the electoral college, and legalized marijuana. Beto believes felons should have the right to vote while incarcerated and women should have the right to abort their babies without limits. He supports the Green New Deal, an expansion of Medicare, an increase in taxes on corporations and the wealthy and a gun licensing program. He opposes the use of tariffs as a strategy in deal-making and a border wall as a strategy in decreasing illegal immigration. Perhaps most importantly, Beto is a frequent critic of President Trump.

Born Robert Francis O’Rourke, the now 46-year-old, 4th generation Irish American shared a name with his paternal grandfather. The younger Robert quickly came to be known by family members as Roberto, a name that commonly becomes ‘Beto’ in the Hispanic community he grew up in and a name that he’s kept throughout adulthood and his professional life. His father was a civil servant and commercial real estate investor, and his mother, the owner of a high-end furniture store. Beto attended El Paso schools until his junior year of high school where he transferred to a private, all-boys boarding school in Virginia.

Beto received his BA in English Literature from Columbia University and did well in school but seemed to find joy through more creative outlets. He learned to play bass and formed a band while in college and was a member of a computer hacking group known as the “Cult of the Dead Cow.” Beto wrote poems and short stories for the group detailing violent and sexual fantasies, for which he’s since expressed regret. Beto returned home to Texas after graduation from Columbia in 1995 and shortly after was arrested for burglary upon breaking into a University of Texas utility shed. Prosecutors dropped the charges a year later, but many believed that his father’s community connections and good standing were likely the cause. In September of 1998, then 25-year-old Beto was again arrested, this time for Driving While Intoxicated. Beto completed a court-recommended rehabilitation program, and a year later, the state of Texas dropped the DWI charges.

Young post-graduate Beto learned to play the drums and joined several more bands, playing a mix of punk and rock. While creatively, he was thriving, professionally he was stagnating. Working odd jobs as a live-in caretaker, art mover, cable guy, and a proofreader, he would write short stories and music in his spare time. The creative outlet helped Beto formulate and solidify his political views. In 2000 with the help of his father, Beto co-founded Stanton Street Technology Group, a web design company. It wasn’t long before Beto found a way to use his new business as an outlet for his creative frustration and published an online newspaper through the company, a division that neglected to turn a profit but allowed Beto to fulfill his passion for writing. In 2001, Beto’s father passed away, leaving his son an 18-unit apartment complex in El Paso valued at $5million. In 2005, Beto married Amy Hoover Sanders, the daughter of billionaire real estate mogul, William Sanders. His new wife helped to make Stanton Street, Beto’s once struggling web design company, a success. She continues to run the business while raising their three children.

With his wife now firmly at the helm of the business, Beto was free to explore his interest in public service. He became involved in local civic organizations and nonprofit groups and in 2005 became El Paso’s youngest City Council Representative where he served for six years. In 2013 Beto went on to run for, and win, his congressional district’s seat. Beto was finally enjoying much personal and professional success. In fact, according to Newsweek magazine, “despite his underdog image, O’Rourke had a net worth of about $9 million in 2015 and ranked 51st out of 435 members in the House of Representatives in terms of wealth.” Beto went on to serve three terms as a Congressman but did not seek reelection in 2018, has instead set his sights on Ted Cruz’s Senate seat.

Beto’s 2018 Senate run drew national attention to the humble, charismatic and exciting new leader. His prolific use of social media and the masterful way he portrayed his love for Texas and Texans drew unlikely support from even the staunchest of Republicans. Cruz quickly came to realize that the new guy was a real contender. Without the help of PACs, Beto raised over $80 million for his Senate campaign and surprisingly, had accrued more than double the war chest amassed by the incumbent. Their combined campaign funds set an all-time record for the most money spent in a Senate race.

While Beto’s efforts did not prove enough to unseat Ted Cruz, he had successfully changed the political landscape in his once deep-red state. In fact, Beto O’Rourke received the most votes cast for a Democrat in Texas history. According to the FEC, Beto outspent Cruz in digital marketing by over $7 million, proving that the candidate fully understood the power of social media. Described often as charismatic, optimistic and energetic, Beto had successfully captivated large crowds and had been compared by many in the media to a young Barack Obama. He ran a campaign without the help of expensive consultants and professional pollsters, staffing it with volunteers, most with little to no political experience. This guy really was exciting and new, and when he spoke, Texans believed him, and the media adored him.

Perhaps to compensate for their overly extensive and fawning coverage of the man who had failed to win his Senate seat, pundits and strategists began almost immediately circulating the idea of a potential presidential run for O’Rourke. In a November 2018 article in The Hill, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona said he has “name recognition, a widely successful fundraising operation, a young fresh face with a sprinkling of woke, a cool persona, a new perspective, he speaks Spanish and would be an exciting, upbeat candidate.”

Putting suspicions to rest, Beto announced his bid for the Presidency in March amidst much excitement. Many believed O’Rourke would quickly find his way to the front of the pack and quite possibly become the new face of the Democrat party… dare we say the new Barack Obama? He seemed to have everything the party needed. But a lot can change in politics in five months. The man that seemed to be the one to beat now has a RealClearPolitics average of a dismal 2.5 percent.

The everyman, average Joe persona that had served O’Rourke so well in his Senate run and gained him the attention of celebrities like Beyonce, Lebron James, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jim Carrey seems, at least for now, to have fallen off his perch. The once adored Facebook Live videos featuring Beto doing ordinary, silly things seemed to have lost their charm. But perhaps what people are missing most from Beto is the optimism. It’s hard to rally around someone who lacks a positive message. In 2018 Texans flocked to the polls en masse in support of Beto, not because they believed he hated Ted Cruz, but because they believed that he loved Texas. Maybe if Beto O’Rourke could channel a little bit of his younger self, he would find the energy, optimism, humility, and patriotism that had once served him so well and would, in turn, find himself with a real shot at the presidency.

-Sandra Strand-Johnson

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