The former congressman from El Paso, Texas, who nearly snatched a Senate seat from Ted Cruz, is running for president. He speaks fluent Spanish and has the potential to endear himself to a large percentage of Latino voters.

By Michael Quiñones
March 15, 2019 02:06 PM

Now that Beto O’Rourke has announced his presidential bid, I understand why his campaign for U.S. senator in Texas during the 2018 midterm elections was blowing up my cell and email with requests for money and support, despite the fact that I reside in New York City. They were grooming me for the big race. Now the texts are coming fast and furious again.

The former three-term congressman from Texas’s 16th district is perhaps the highest profile election loser, coming close to defeating incumbent Ted Cruz and being the first Democratic senator in Texas since 1988. Though he didn’t win, he has charm and swagger, seemingly able to raise money with his magnetism — $80 million in mostly small donations for his Senate campaign and rejecting PAC money. The 46-year-old husband and dad of three is social media savvy, and a recent Vanity Fair profile indicates that he has a rather mythic vision of himself as destined for the presidency.

Beto’s congressional district was 80 percent Hispanic, and he will need all the help he can get from Latinos, especially running against a younger Latino like Julián Castro. Here are 5 things you might want to know about a man who has as good a shot as any at being our next president.

1. His Nickname Isn’t Just a Ploy to Win Latino Voters

Much has been made of Robert Francis O’Rourke’s Latin bona fides, mainly due to his nickname, as explained here. The Mexican nickname Beto is short for Roberto, which became a talking point on authenticity after O’Rourke decided to run for senator in Texas. He was called out by the Free Beacon with the headline “Meet the Irish-American Going by a Mexican Nickname Challenging Ted Cruz,” alleging that he used the name to win over a 75 percent Mexican district. Ted Cruz, whose given name is Rafael Edward, ran ads calling out O’Rourke’s use of the name Beto as the mark of a poseur who uses the moniker opportunistically. The irony, of course, is that Cruz uses his Americanized name and also doesn’t speak Spanish. Beto responded with this tweet of him as child with a hand-stitched sweater reading Beto to quash any more discussion.

Beto speaks Spanish fluently. Not only was he born and raised in El Paso, but his father was raised there too. Dad Patrick, a onetime El Paso politician, said in an interview that when he was a child, going to the movie theater in Ciudad Juarez, he didn’t know he wasn’t Mexican. That Beto’s parents gave him a Mexican nickname seems to be a reflection of that. These are all

2. He’s well-positioned to talk about the wall and the so-called border crisis 

Speaking of El Paso, it’s the biggest city on the U.S.-Mexico border. When President Trump came to hold a pro-border-wall rally there in February, Beto met him with a counter-rally, in lieu of a protest, on the same day.

“We are not safe because of walls but in spite of walls,” he said at his own March for Truth event.

No other democratic presidential candidates are from border towns or have experienced the relatively open borders of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez back in the 1980s before a border fence was erected. El Paso is regularly among the top 5 safest big cities in the country, according to a detailed report cited in the El Paso Times.

Beto’s position on immigration from the south mirrors that of most democrats: a path to citizenship for the undocumented, support for the Dream Act, demilitarization of the border and the closing of certain detention centers.

3. He’s aware of his white privilege

Beto wrote an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle in which he admitted to several brushes with the law. The candid piece begins with him exposing his skeletons:

“Twenty-three years ago I was arrested for attempted forcible entry after jumping a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso. I spent a night in the El Paso County Jail, was able to make bail the next day, and was released. Three years later, I was arrested for drunk driving — a far more serious mistake for which there is no excuse.”

But this didn’t deter him from pursuing his dreams, mostly because he was an upper-class white, he admits. He goes on to explain his positions on criminal justice and experiences while visiting prisons.

He’s also aware of how being a white guy could be a liability with Democratic voters who are ready for a woman or person of color to  step into the White House as the VF story makes clear: “The government at all levels is overly represented by white men,” he told the mag.

4. He’s been criticized for not reaching out to Latinos enough during his Senate campaign

Beto is lauded for having visited all 254 counties in Texas during the campaign. Despite his time spent on the road, a Vice article in October 2018 explored claims by activists who backed Beto that he wasn’t spending enough times in Hispanic neighborhoods. That’s not to say that grassroots activists weren’t there, but they were volunteers not affiliated with the campaign. The campaign should have hired more black and brown people to knock on doors, suggested Cristina Tzintzun, executive director of a progressive Texas group working to engage POC politically.

Beto did, however, hold many town halls where he engaged with Latinos.

Beto addressing a crowd from a coffeeshop countertop in Iowa on March 15.

5. He’s more moderate than progressive 

Beto has a voting record in line with the more conservative Democrats (he is after all from Texas), but throughout his three terms, he was not among the most conservative democrats in the House. He ran to the right of the incumbent democrat, Silvestre Reyes, he defeated to earn the El Paso House seat, and he was a member of the New Democratic Coalition, which aligns with business. He’s voted with Trump 30 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, and voted against the majority of democrats for things like the September 2018 American Innovation Act, aimed at helping startups with further tax deductions.

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