AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke is hoping to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz — and end a 30-year streak of statewide losses for his party — by taking his grassroots-driven campaign to every single one of Texas’ 254 counties, including the deep-red ones that Democrats have ignored for decades.
“I don’t know if I’m going to win more votes than the last Democrat who ran in those counties, but I know that not enough Democrats have been showing up in those counties in the first place,” he told VICE News in an interview on the road in the middle of a seven-stop day on the campaign trail last month.
“And they haven’t been reflecting the needs of those counties in what they say on the campaign trail.”
But for all he says he’s looking to reflect the needs of those voters, when he visits seven Republican-leaning rural counties across West Texas on a Saturday in February, he doesn’t moderate his liberal profile on a range of issues. During a stop in Brown County — which voted for Trump by 86 percent — he touts his support for an assault weapons ban. In Parker County, where Trump won 82 percent of the vote, he’s unapologetically pro-choice.
Running as a liberal is a tough task in a state Republicans have won statewide every election cycle since 1994.
But Texas’ demographic shifts — towards a younger, more diverse electorate — suggest it’s just a matter of time until Democrats take back the state. And O’Rourke believes the grassroots energy behind his campaign — which has helped him outraise Cruz over the past four months of the race — coupled with frustration among Republicans with Cruz and Trump’s performance in office could make this cycle different for Democrats.
“I think there’s some energy around the things that we’re concerned about — this idea that we build a wall…this incitement of fear about Muslims,” he said.
But O’Rourke added: “There’s a lot more energy—I think you saw it tonight around the things that people want to do, that they’re excited for,” like raising the minimum wage and passing immigration reform.
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