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Beto O'Rourke every voter counts

Beto O'Rourke is from El Paso, Texas and therefore he is in a unique position to directly confront President Donald Trump on the issue of border security with Mexico.

As the former three term congressman began his campaign for president in March, with stops in Iowa, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, he proclaimed as an eyewitness, that there is no immigration crisis at the southern border and that the president is wasting the country's time, energy, money - and squandering national unity - for his own narrow political purposes.

The Democratic crowds he addressed were prepared to believe him and eager to hear his message centered on the need to strive together to make our country better for everyone.

O'Rourke addresses his first rally in Keene, New Hampshire.

The Democrats running for president face the ultimate challenge of confronting President Trump without being sucked down the drain of negative campaigning and name calling Trump used so effectively in 2016. Most Democrats in the field believe the only way to beat Trump is on the issues. There is no benefit in making the man himself one of those issues, even though he so obviously is. O'Rourke puts his own nuance on the Trump question:

Everyone can agree, we can simply do better.

Even if you like President Trump, O'Rourke would argue, you must admit much of his presidency amounts to time taken away from more important national pursuits. Pursuits that would include a more inclusive immigration policy, greater investment in education and healthcare, and leadership focused on bringing the country together rather than dividing it into hard partisan blocks.

O'Rourke captured the imagination of the national press, and some Democrats, by coming close to defeating Senator Ted Cruz(R) last year in a race Cruz should have won with ease.

In a campaign era dominated by social media outreach, O'Rourke preaches a political strategy that is easier to understand. He advocates winning by touching every voter possible, even those inclined to vote Republican. By reaching out he means meeting them in person and talking to them. He says it is how he almost beat Cruz and he says it is how he will win the presidency.

If he does win the Democratic nomination, it is a strategy that could work, since the president's campaign plan requires less than 50% of the popular vote, in the right combination of states, for a win in the Electoral College.

Upper Left: Students watch O'Rourke arrive using Facebook Live. Lower Right: Standing on furniture stands in for the traditional campaign soap box.

There is also O'Rourke's youth and vigor.

The Irish Times recently published an analysis comparing O'Rourke to Bobby Kennedy. He is tall and thin and lean. He has the appearance of a college athlete, the stage movements of a light footed boxer, and the speech cadence of a carnival barker. He is entertaining. And campaigning is always at least one part entertainment.

In a field with nearly half a dozen female candidates, O'Rourke and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, both manage to bring empathy to the heart of their campaigns. It is a trait that will be important in both the primary and the general election. Empathy is a characteristic American voters need to be reminded of in this political moment.

Like many new candidates, O'Rourke is facing criticism for failing to provide policy detail, but that criticism misses the most fundamental point.

When a sitting president is running for re-election, the president is the issue. The election is a referendum on his first term. Since that is the case, there is merit for O'Rourke - and others - to contrast themselves with the president based on style, vision, and decency rather than policy. If 2020 is a "change election" the biggest change would be replacing the chaos of the Trump administration with earnest competence.

O'Rourke's campaign for the White House is only a few weeks old, but if he continues on his current pace, and if his Senate campaign provides a peek into his tactics, he is a high energy candidate willing to travel anywhere, talk to anyone, give himself completely to the crowd, and drive himself to the White House.

Early in the campaign, the candidate is driving himself from stop to stop.

At this point, Beto O'Rourke is more an idea than a candidate.

An idea grounded in the belief that most Americans recognize the Trump presidency has been a disaster. That the country is standing in place or even falling behind. That far from changing Washington, Trump has only made it worse. That the only way to make government work for the people is to put faith in a candidate who promises honesty, hard work, caring, and compassion for those he would serve.

During his campaign against Ted Cruz, O'Rourke was described by some political observers as a white Barack Obama. You will remember Obama's long-shot campaign was built on hope. It is an obvious way to draw a sharp contrast with the current president. No polling is necessary to arrive at this conclusion.

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© Dean Pagani 2019

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