- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2019

Even Sen. Kamala D. Harris jumped on the bandwagon Thursday, firing off an email to her supporters with the subject line “Beto O’Rourke.”

As the former Texas congressman jumped into the presidential race, Ms. Harris pleaded with her backers to send her cash to fend him off.

Those are the kinds of attention-grabbing gimmicks Democratic candidates are turning to as they try to carve out relevancy amid the crowded field and the long months until the voting actually begins.

Mr. O’Rourke’s announcement received wall-to-wall coverage on the cable news networks, which tracked and analyzed his every movement during the first day of a scheduled three-day swing through Iowa.

Even President Trump tuned in, saying one thing stood out during Mr. O’Rourke’s launch.

“I think he has got a lot of hand movement, I’ve never seen so much hand movement,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’ “

Mr. O’Rourke is the latest potential Trump challenger to enjoy marquee treatment, but it’s a safe bet attention will soon shift to whether former Vice President Joseph R. Biden joins the race.

That will leave Mr. O’Rourke once again amid the rest of the pack struggling to find a voice.

It’s something the other declared candidates have been grappling with.

A marathon, not a sprint

“Everybody will get a moment with a sort of flavor-of-the-month stage,” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told The Washington Times late last year. “It will probably be the flavor of the weekend, and then how do you outlast that.”

Mr. Buttigieg enjoyed the limelight this weekend in a nationally televised CNN town hall.

He delivered a memorable zinger about another Indiana politician, Vice President Mike Pence.

“How would he allow himself to become the cheerleader for the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing Donald Trump?” Mr. Buttigieg asked. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

The CNN appearance helped him rake in $600,000 from 22,000 donations over a 24-hour period — his biggest single-day fundraising haul, moving him closer to qualifying for the first Democratic debate.

“There is no doubt that the CNN town hall increased interest in Mayor Pete,” said Buttigieg spokeswoman Lis Smith. “We received a rush of interest from folks in early states that hadn’t been there before. So right now it’s incumbent on us to capitalize on that.”

Ms. Smith said they view the race as a marathon and are planning for “ebbs and flows of attention, while seeing that there is always a danger in overexposure.”

Stuck in the pack

Mr. Buttigieg is among the nine declared or likely candidates that registered at 1 percent in a Morning Consult Poll released this week.

The group includes former Obama housing chief Julián Castro, who, seeking not to be upstaged by fellow Texan Mr. O’Rourke, blasted out a “Texas-sized” fundraising email Thursday.

“I’ve got some big news — this morning my campaign announced that we have now received more than 30 endorsements from elected and appointed officials from across Texas,” Mr. Castro said. “From state representatives to county judges, from members of Congress to a former Cabinet secretary, our campaign is quickly picking up support all across my home state.”

Mr. O’Rourke’s moment could be fleeting as well.

Party leaders and activists say the former congressman is going to be pressed to move beyond his lofty language of unity and flesh out his policy positions with details.

“This is not just another county rodeo that he is entering here,” former Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower, an informal O’Rourke adviser, said on MSNBC. “He’s vying for the cowboy championship and there are some very serious contenders on the other side, so this is not going to be as easy as the Senate race was.”

Mr. O’Rourke lost that race last year by less than 3 percentage points to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Tough for new guys

The 2016 Democratic nomination race showed just how tough it can be for insurgent candidates to make a mark.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Jim Webb of Virginia failed to break through in a race that was primarily framed as a bout between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders.

“Our political world only has room in its collective brain for a handful of candidates, maybe as few as three,” said Craig Crawford, who worked on Mr. Webb’s short-lived campaign. “Anyone not in that top tier will struggle for attention and money.”

Mr. Crawford said there’s a chance for lesser-knowns to audition for big roles such as a Cabinet post — but for well-known candidates who fail to make the grade, “you’re screwed, labeled a loser.”

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