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Why Beto O’Rourke lost

November 7, 2018

EL PASO — Beto O’Rourke supporters wholeheartedly believed he would become the first Democrat to win statewide office in more than two decades.

But Tuesday’s election results proved that while O’Rourke raised millions of dollars and galvanized many Texans to vote for the first time, it still wasn’t enough to clench a victory over Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

Here are a few explanations for why O’Rourke wasn’t able to pull it off in the end.

Dedicated Republican voters: Texas saw a surge of voter turnout in Democrat strongholds like Harris, Travis and Dallas counties. At the polls and on social media, many people said they were voting for the first time in a midterm election. O’Rourke also clinched the vote from college students, who typically don’t turn out during midterms. Border counties like El Paso and Hidalgo saw a surge in voter turnout.

Judging from Gov. Greg Abbott’s win over his Democratic opponent, O’Rourke was able to persuade some Republicans to vote for him over Cruz, but just not enough. Republican strongholds, like Collin and Montgomery counties, had just enough voters turn out to keep Cruz in office.

Not moderate enough: O’Rourke spent millions on ads portraying himself as the guy who will work for all Texans, regardless of party. But that didn’t persuade enough moderate Republicans.

Ultimately, O’Rourke’s record in Congress shows that he toes the Democratic party line, supporting pro-choice issues and universal health care. When Cruz attacked him on “open border” policies and said O’Rourke did not believe in abortion limits, O’Rourke rarely fought back. That ultimately cost him.

Slow to respond: O’Rourke touted his “grassroots” campaign as a badge of honor. He didn’t employ pollsters or consultants and ran much of his campaign out of the front seat of his minivan. While that was appealing to some voters, it ultimately hurt O’Rourke who may have benefited from statewide-campaign experts who could have advised him on the best way to use the millions in campaign cash he raised.

O’Rourke became more fiery in the last debate against Cruz and in some of his TV ads, but throughout the campaign, his staff was often too slow respond to Cruz’s attacks.

When Cruz called O’Rourke a socialist during the first debate, O’Rourke shot back that Cruz was acting “true to form” by refusing to say anything positive about his opponent. O’Rourke never really denied the underlying claim and was also slow to push back against Cruz’s charge that O’Rourke voted for a $10 per-barrel tax on oil, a claim that dominated many of Cruz’s television ads.

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