It took several months to come to the dismal conclusion, but Beto O’Rourke finally conceded Friday that his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination couldn’t get there from here.
“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully,” O’Rourke said on social media.
“My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee,” said O’Rourke, who had tried to turn a near-miss run for the Senate from Texas in 2018 into a successful race for president.
“Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country,” O’Rourke said.
Beto’s decision came just hours before he was supposed to join other Democratic candidates at a party dinner in Iowa.
Volunteers were still collecting voter information and handing out “Beto” stickers outside the event amid a steady rain as Beto announced he was dropping out.
Beto, as he was called on yard signs for his senate campaign, and for president, learned some things the hard way.
Like, going from being a three-term congressman from El Paso running against two opponents in the 2018 Democratic primary, to contest incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s re-election bid for a second term.
That was simpler than seeking the presidential nomination against more than two dozen – including a former vice-president, and several members of the senate he had sought in 2018 to join.
In 2017, Beto had decided to run for Cruz’s job rather than re-election.
Cruz, the state’s solicitor general under then-Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, had won the Republican Senate nomination in 2012 by upsetting wealthy Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff.
In Washington, the brash new senator rapidly united the usually divided Democratic and Republican senators on at least one thing: if Cruz were drowning, few of them would have tossed him a life preserver.
Beto announced for the Senate on March 31, 2017. He vowed to campaign in all 254 counties in Texas, and talk to any person or group. And he did.
He also pledged not to accept donations from political action committees – yet he still raised some $80 million from individual donors across Texas and the country – the most ever for a U.S. senate race.
He lost to Cruz by just 2.6 percent – much closer than political watchers had predicted, in a state where no Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1994. Despite his loss, the excitement he created from the top of the ticket had an impact on several down-ballot races.
A Democrat in Dallas and another in Houston unseated longtime Republican congressmen. Democrats flipped 12 Republican-held seats in the Texas House of Representatives, and one in the Texas Senate.
After his narrow loss, Beto got lots of encouragement nationally to run for president. He also had lots of people urging him to use his considerable momentum in 2020 to face off against Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn.
Beto, whose name identification had gone national as a result of his run against Cruz, decided he’d prefer to take a chance on holding an office where he’d be one of one, rather than one of a hundred.
After he finally announced for president on March 14 of this year, his campaign raised $9.4 million in the first two weeks.
But the competition increased, for both attention and campaign contributions, and his standing in the polls and donors both dwindled.
He was also wounded by an article on the cover of Vanity Fair, that quoted him as saying he was “born” for the presidential race.
Beto had trouble staying up with the continually rising threshold of requirements his number of donors and poll results required to participate in the Democratic debates every few weeks.
So finally, on Friday, he pulled the plug. He said he isn’t backing any particular candidate, saying the country will be well served by any of the other candidates, “and I’m going to be proud to support whoever that nominee is.”
Lots of backers renewed their calls for Beto to get in the now-crowded Democratic primary race for Cornyn’s Senate seat.
No, he said through a spokesman on Friday.
“Beto will not be a candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas in 2020,” said Rob Friedlander, an aide to Mr. O’Rourke.
Upon hearing of Beto’s exit, Trump couldn’t resist tweeting about it, rubbing his nose in the earlier Vanity Fair article.
“Oh no,” Trump tweeted. “Beto just dropped out of race for President despite him saying he was ‘born for this.’ I don't think so!”
McNeely is the dean of the Texas Capitol press corps. Contact McNeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512/458-2963.