The love fest between Beto O’Rourke and aides and allies of former President Barack Obama is growing. More and more of these “Obama people” are saying that they could support O’Rourke if he decides to run for president in 2020.
Although O’Rourke lost, Obama allies say there are many similarities between O’Rourke, 46, and Obama, who was just 47 when he was elected to the presidency.
Some of the similarities seem a big tenuous. For example, they point out that both are “political upstarts” with “unusual names” who “came out of nowhere” to inspire millions of people to become part of a “movement.”
In fact, say many Obama supporters, O’Rourke is a 2020 version of their former boss.
“That ability to make people feel invested in his campaign and his story does remind me of Obama ‘08,” said David Litt, who was a speechwriter for Obama. “You see the crowds and the enthusiasm, the kind of movement that isn’t about me but about us.”
Litt is the the author of a book called “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years.” He maintains that O’Rourke, like Obama, is the kind of candidate that would inspire his staff member to work hard and “go the extra mile.”
“They wanted to put in an extra shift or make a dozen phone calls on his behalf or talk to their neighbors because they really believe in him,” Litt said. “And even when he came up short, everyone felt like they had achieved something great. There are very few people who can inspire that kind of sentiment.”
Another former Obama staff member said O’Rourke, even after losing his Senate bid, has energized the party like no one since the former president.
“The party hasn’t seen this kind of enthusiasm since Obama,” the person said. “There isn’t one other potential candidate out there that has people buzzing. And that’s exactly why people supported Obama and why they’ll support Beto.”
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Obama, recently made the case for why O’Rourke should run.
“I have never seen a Senate candidate — including Obama in 2004 — inspire the sort of enthusiasm that Beto did in this race,” Pfeiffer said. “If O’Rourke runs he would be one of the strongest candidates in the field. Millions of people already believe in Beto O’Rourke and that moment for them and him, may be upon us,” he added.
Even Barack Obama himself has talked about O’Rourke’s potential candidacy for the presidency.
“Impressive young man who ran a terrific race,” Obama told David Axelrod, his chief strategist in the 2008 campaign.
“What I liked most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested,” Obama said. “It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly, it’s not.”
Obama is not endorsing anyone before the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries that might include his former Vice President Joe Biden. “We’ve got a number of other people who fall into that same category,” Obama said.
But still, Obama’s supporters were impressed by his very positive comments about O’Rourke.
“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant,” Obama said. “What I oftentimes am looking for first and foremost is, ‘Do you seem to mean it?’ ”
It is becoming more apparent each day that Obama people noticed O’Rourke’s fast ascension from little-known politician to Democratic rock star. More of them are saying they see a strong resemblance to Obama, the last Democrat elected president who is still extremely admired within his party.
Litt said he realized that O’Rourke was special when he was on a book tour in Italy in September.
“All these Italians kept asking me, ‘Can Beto win in Texas?’ And I was like, ‘How do you even know this person?’ ” Litt recalled.
O’Rourke has one particular strength that may propel him to the presidency: fundraising. He broke a fundraising record when he raised more than $38 million from July through September earlier this year for his Senate campaign.
Political experts say that what will weed out potential 2020 candidates is the ability to raise money. They also say that the best fundraisers will be the strongest candidates, and O’Rourke is one of the best fundraisers they’ve ever seen.
With charisma, money, and the support of Obama people, Beto O’Rourke could end up being one of the strongest contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.