March 18, 2019 — Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, as expected, officially joined the Democratic presidential race with a formal announcement while traveling to Iowa to begin campaigning.
O’Rourke’s entry now means that the Democratic field features 14 candidates, with more, including former Vice President Joe Biden, soon to join.
O’Rourke comes into the field generally viewed as a top-tier candidate, though he has been dropping into mid-single digits in the latest national polls. He appears to be battling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for fourth position behind Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT), and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
As we remember, O’Rourke was hyped as a major US Senate candidate with the opportunity of converting Republican Texas to the Democratic column with an upset win over first-term incumbent and 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R).
Though he fell three points short of victory, losing to Cruz 51-48%, he did prove his prowess as a national fundraiser. O’Rourke attracted over $80 million from across the country for his Senate race.
In the Texas campaign, then-Rep. O’Rourke moved left to appeal to the national Democratic donor constituency, which worked. And, his voting record over three terms in the House supported the issue positions he was advocating during his statewide campaign.
But, with Sens. Sanders, Harris, Warren, and arguably Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) all trying to win this same constituency, is there room, or acceptance, for O’Rourke? Possibly a better strategy might be for him to slightly moderate and attempt to convert the Biden coalition should the former VP hit a bump in the road on his way to the nomination. Problems for Biden are likely because all of the others, especially the ones listed at the beginning of this paragraph, will be forced to hunt Biden if any of them are to win the nomination.
By running his social media-oriented, more positive campaign and avoiding attacking the other candidates, O’Rourke might become an acceptable alternative for the Biden coalition if the former vice president and veteran Delaware senator becomes bloodied to the point of falling back into the pack. Considering Biden hovers only around 30 percent in all national Democratic primary polls, seeing such an occurrence is well within the realm of possibility.
Next, O’Rourke would need to use the delegate apportionment rules to his favor. While it is conceivable that no candidate would win on the national convention’s first ballot, a multi-roll call situation could be O’Rourke’s best chance. With a contested convention in mind, Texas’ delegate count and position on the voting schedule must become big assets for the former El Paso congressman. The Lone Star State has 228 elected delegates, the second-largest contingent at the convention.
Currently, the stated nomination rules are such that it will be difficult for any one candidate to amass majority support on the first ballot with as many as 18 or so contenders, bound first-ballot delegate votes, and Super Delegates not being allowed to participate until subsequent roll calls. Having no winner-take-all states but requiring a threshold for delegate apportionment in the voting entities, usually 15 percent of a state’s popular vote, would allow both Biden and Sanders to accumulate delegates in every place, but almost assuredly leave them both short of a majority.
Under these parameters, the apportionment strategy comes into focus. O’Rourke would need to claim some delegates in each of the First Four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina) to remain credible, though he can probably survive without placing first anywhere during February. He would then need to score big in Texas, which is scheduled for March 3, the fastest any state can vote after the First Four complete their nominating events.
The party officials and Democratic National Committee members could change some of these rules either at their bi-annual meeting later this year, or at the convention itself. But, such a move is unlikely.
Beto O’Rourke’s entry into the race may change the current tide. It is probable that he will be a factor when the voting begins next year and could potentially win enough delegates to help force multiple convention roll call votes before a nominee is finally chosen.