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Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams emerge stronger after defeats

November 21, 2018

Rep. Beto O’Rourke has gone philosophical since he nearly topped Sen. Ted Cruz in the midterm elections, publicly musing online about everything from knee pains and picking a bathroom to Lincoln’s second inaugural address and a change in the political winds.

To some, it may have been oversharing.

But to fans of the Texas Democrat, including those who ponied up some $70 million to power his failed Senate bid, they saw what they had been waiting for: a signal that Mr. O’Rourke would rise stronger from his defeat, with his eye on the White House in 2020.

More than any other election in recent political history, the 2018 midterms have created a slew of Democratic martyrs candidates who lost their races, but emerged with bigger national profiles and higher ambitions.

There’s also Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida, both are black Democrats who lost their gubernatorial races. Both have emerged with deep street cred among liberal activists.

“In three very different races, Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke ran smart campaigns that openly defied conventional wisdom in D.C., focused on inspiring and mobilizing voters from the new American majority that most in Washington tell candidates to ignore, and turned elections that should have never been competitive into historically close contests,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America.

What’s next for them remains to be seen.

Low-dollar donors and Hollywood stars are all cheering the possibility that Mr. O’Rourke will run for the White House, while Ms. Abrams told CNN last weekend she’s not done with elections.

“I do indeed intend to run for office again, I’m not sure for what and I am not exactly certain when,” she said.

And even President Trump predicted Mr. Gillum has a future, calling him “a force to reckon with!’”

Each of the three took different tactics following Election Day.

Mr. O’Rourke quickly and graciously conceded, then turned his attention to his internet musings and his day job on Capitol Hill, where he is serving out the rest of his House term.

Mr. Gillum conceded, then recanted, then re-conceded last weekend, but left most of the legal jockeying over Florida’s vote count to Sen. Bill Nelson, a fellow Democrat who bitterly fought to the end in a losing bid to uncover enough votes to win his own race.

Ms. Abrams has acknowledged Republican Brian Kemp as the victor. But she refused to call his election legitimate and has said she’s forming an organization whose first act will be to sue Mr. Kemp over voting rules in Georgia.

That has helped boost her own martyr’s profile.

Christy Setzer, a Democratic strategist, said Democrats will always doubt the outcome of the race because of the issues Ms. Abrams raised, particularly because Mr. Kemp had been secretary of state during the voting.

Ms. Setzer said Ms. Abrams’ defiant stance “gave Democrats exactly what they wanted to hear: A vow that she’d make the playing field more even next time.”

“That’s an attractive message not just in Georgia, but nationally especially when the Democratic base is furious with party leaders for not standing up to Trump or anyone who’s bending the rules,” Ms. Setzer said. “Her future is bright.”

Mo Elleithee, former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said the three tapped into voters’ hunger for candidates that clearly “articulate a progressive message” and for fresh faces in Democratic leadership.

“There are a lot of people out there that have been saying that the Democratic bench is thin and I think these candidates have shown that is not true,” he said. “People are going to keep eyes on them and see what their next moves are, whether or not they can keep working in their states to continue moving the ball down the field, or whether or not there is room for them somewhere else running for federal office, or landing a position in a future administration.”

Mr. O’Rourke has turned himself into an instant presidential contender, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll last week that showed the Texan running third in the likely field of Democratic 2020 aspirants, trailing only former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

His internet musings, in a post on Medium.com, seemed intent on capitalizing on his popularity, as he pondered a morning run amid the snow, having to use his downstairs bathroom because the upstairs shower was occupied, lingering knee pains and President Lincoln’s words carved into his memorial on the National Mall.

“The sleet stinging my face, I wondered if the winds had changed too,” Mr. O’Rourke concluded, sending commenters into a tizzy of excitement that he was hinting at a presidential run.

“Beto is loving in the limelight,” said Mark P. Jones, political science professor at Rice University. “He has the attention of the nation. So he is milking it a little bit.”

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