- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2019

By all accounts, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has lost his mojo.

He has slipped in the polls, is dismissed as a lightweight by much of the news media, and now serves as a punchline for late-night talk show hosts who used to fawn over him.

And yet he is clinging to a handhold in the race that could give him a path to the nomination if he can hang on into 2020.

The task for Mr. O’Rourke, according to Democratic strategist and pollster John Couvillon, is to stick around long enough for voters to begin looking for an alternative to current front-runner and establishment favorite former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“In both of the cases where he was a giant slayer or a near-giant slayer, he was running in one-on-one situations,” Mr. Couvillon said. “Given the fact that with 24 candidates you are going to have a considerable amount of Democratic primary voter fatigue, what Beto has to do is either keep posting strong fundraising numbers to get political insiders’ attention or turn in a strong debate.”

Mr. O’Rourke played the role of giant slayer in 2012 when he seized a House seat in his El Paso, Texas, district with an upset primary win over eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes, who was endorsed by then-President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

He gained national fame with his long-shot bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz. He captured more votes than any Democrat in Texas history but came up roughly 2,000 votes short of the 8.3 million cast.

Mr. O’Rourke entered the presidential race as a Hollywood favorite with the press treating him as a star on the campaign trail.

Just two months ago, Mr. O’Rourke consistently polled in third place behind Mr. Biden and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Then he quickly began stumbling, including offending the feminist left with a joke about his wife raising their children “sometimes with my help.”

The bigger criticism was that beyond his grand pronouncements about unity and inclusion, he lacks a grasp of issues and policies.

However, his feel-good message and opaque political platform give him plenty of room to carve out space between the establishment Mr. Biden and the far-left Mr. Sanders.

“I think he is still trying to figure out where he fits on the Democratic political spectrum,” Mr. Couvillon said.

In New Hampshire, home of the first primary, Democratic Party officials see room for a shake-up in the crowded field that could benefit Mr. O’Rourke.

“Things are moving up and down and sideways. You just don’t know what is going to happen,” said Ann Garland, cochairwoman of the Democratic Party in the Upper Valley region of Grafton, New Hampshire. “I’m looking forward to seeing the debates in June to see what really happens.”

What gives Mr. O’Rourke a handhold in the race is his prodigious fundraising. He was among the top three Democratic candidates for individual contributions in the first quarter, with Mr. Sanders and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

The test will be whether he can keep up the pace or at least come close the rest of the year.

Though he is down in the polls since he launched his campaign in March, Mr. O’Rourke consistently ranks fifth or sixth.

And despite some dismissive press coverage, he still has fans in the mainstream media.

“You get very snarky national media coverage. Where’s the disconnect?” MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace asked Mr. O’Rourke in a recent interview. “Play media critic. What can we do better as those of us trying to cover your candidacies from very far away, from where the first votes will be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire? Don’t hold back.”

“It just is what it is,” responded Mr. O’Rourke.

Ms. Wallace shot back: “It doesn’t have to be.”

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