How Beto went from Dem darling to dropping out

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What’s happening

On Friday, Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced he is ending his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

O’Rourke served three terms in the House, representing his hometown of El Paso, before launching a long-shot Senate campaign to unseat Republican Ted Cruz in 2018. Though O’Rourke lost, he drew national attention by forcing Cruz into a tight race in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in three decades. His off-the-cuff speaking style and a series of viral moments drew him many admirers on the left, including Barack Obama and Beyoncé.

That momentum appeared to carry into the presidential election when O’Rourke announced his candidacy in March. He was polling among top contenders and posted strong fundraising numbers shorty after launching his campaign. Both of those metrics plummeted in the following months. By the end of October, O’Rourke was running out of money and at risk of missing out on the next debate.

Why there’s debate

O’Rourke’s rapid rise to national prominence and abrupt fall-off have spawned questions about just what went wrong with his presidential bid. Political experts have offered a number of explanations. When he launched his campaign, O’Rourke appeared in a Vanity Fair cover story in which he said he was “born to be” in the presidential race, sparking criticism of “white privilege” that he struggled to shed, some experts said. Others suggested that O’Rourke’s appeal in 2018 was largely driven by the fact that he was the lone Democratic choice running against Cruz, who is broadly disliked by the left.

As a candidate, O’Rourke lacked a clear policy platform early in the race and his campaign suffered from poor organization in key early states, some political analysts said. When he did settle on policy positions, he took strong progressive stances — especially on gun control — that might have stunted his appeal among moderate voters.

What’s next

The end of O’Rourke’s bid for president raises questions about his political future. Despite calls from some Democrats that he run for Senate again in Texas in 2020, O’Rourke has said he won’t be pursuing any public office in the next election. Last month, he said he “cannot fathom a scenario” in which he would run for any office again if he wasn’t the Democratic nominee.

O'Rourke's withdrawal leaves his supporters looking for a new candidate to follow. Recent polling suggests those voters will distribute their backing among the remaining contenders, rather than shift en masse to one individual competitor.


His campaign suffered from a lack of planning

“Unlike most politicians who run for the White House ... O’Rourke had only recently begun seeing himself as someone who could run for president, and had spent virtually no time preparing for the possibility.” — Eric Bradner, CNN

His shift to the left backfired

“When it became clear his personality wouldn’t be enough to win him the election, O’Rourke did the next best thing and started introducing radical, outlandish policies that certainly grabbed the nation’s attention, but not in a good way.” — Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

He wasn’t up to the level of his competition when it came to policy

“When he hesitated or demurred — as he did frequently on policy questions early in the campaign — he was cast as a lightweight in a field populated by senators and a former vice president.” — David Siders, Politico

His appeal wasn’t broad enough for a diverse Democratic voter base

“As a moderate three-term congressman, he won over many suburban white voters in his Texas Senate bid, but as editor-in-chief Nate Silver wrote back in July, a base of white moderates, particularly younger ones, wasn’t enough.” — Geoffrey Skelley, FiveThirtyEight

Much of the excitement around him came from his being an alternative to Cruz

“When positioned as the alternative to Ted Cruz in a state where Democrats hadn’t won a Senate seat in decades, he was a great candidate, even if he came up a few percentage points short. He was less of a force against, say, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, or Bernie Sanders, those with whom he would be competing for young voters’ affections.” — Jim Newell, Slate

His campaign was bogged down by a series of blunders

“From the cringe-worthy cover of Vanity Fair to the awkward video announcement to the f-bombs, he simply did not seem ‘presidential’ — that is, someone single-minded, devoted and utterly prepared to lead a country with as many grave problems as ours. He never quite escaped the impression he was a bit of a dilettante.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Accusations of privilege turned off voters throughout his campaign

“O’Rourke spent much of his presidential campaign apologizing — including for his braggadocio about being ‘born to be in’ the presidential race, for his ‘white privilege’ and for other things.” — Colin Reed, Fox News

Much of his moderate voter base has been taken up by Pete Buttigieg

“Another sensation, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was fresher, younger, quicker on his feet, crowding the not-classically-qualified lane that Mr. O’Rourke once seemed to own.” — Matt Flegenheimer, New York Times

His presidential campaign may have hurt his chances of winning a statewide election in Texas

“His assertive defense of a mandatory assault weapons buyback won him momentary celebrity status in a competitive Democratic field. But it may have capped his political future in gun-loving Texas.” — Patrick Svitek and Emma Platoff, Texas Tribune

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Getty Images