Democrat Beto O'Rourke to all Texas' 254 counties. (June 9) fulfilled his goal of taking his U.S. Senate campaign
He celebrated its completion at a packed rally in the historic Santa Fe train depot in the Cooke County seat of Gainesville.
That county, on the Oklahoma border due north of Dallas and Fort Worth, was the 254th, since the personable third-term El Paso congressman announced in March last year that he would be giving up his House seat to challenge the re-election of Texas' junior senator, Republican Ted Cruz, 47. ((DOB 12/22/70))
In the 14 months since, O'Rourke, 45, ((DOB 9/26/72)) and an aide or two, has logged an enormous number of miles in a maroon Dodge Grand Caravan. He reportedly does about 80 percent of the driving.
O'Rourke had recently visited the 253rd county, the remote Loving County in West Texas. It's the least-populated county in Texas – 134 people in 2017, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate -- and the least-populated county in the country outside of three in Alaska.
An inspection of election results indicates why Loving and Cooke Counties haven't exactly been on Democrats' must-call list.
In Loving County, O'Rourke got 2 of the 11 votes cast in the Democratic primary, or 18.2 percent. Meanwhile, Cruz got 13 of the 15 votes cast in the county's Republican primary – 86.7 percent. More importantly, he got more than six times Beto's vote.
Cooke County, while far more populous, wasn't exactly a rich motherlode for Democrats, either. Beto got 281 of 445 votes in the Democratic primary, for 63 percent. In the GOP primary, Cruz got 3,927 votes, of 15,910 cast, for 87.7 percent.
More importantly, Cruz got more than 14 times as many votes as Beto in Cooke County returns. Ouch!
In the 2016 general election in Cooke County, when three times as many people voted than in the 2018 primaries, Donald Trump got 82.8 percent of the 15,910 votes cast.
In Loving County, where the 2016 presidential vote was also almost triple the vote in the two party primaries in 2018, Trump got 58 of 65 votes, for 89.2 percent.
So you can get a sense of why Democrats have tended to avoid counties like those two, and spend their time on more populous Democratic turf.
But O'Rourke's effort is aimed at talking to everyone he can, regardless of party. While he definitely has some strong ideas on some subjects, like health care and immigration, he also seems eager to actually listen.
He truly seems to be the relatively rare lawmaker in Washington these days who doesn't consider compromise a dirty word. He actually seems interested in working across the aisle to achieve common-sense results.
O'Rourke's 254-county strategy endorses the hope that by going to places Democrats typically have avoided because the pickings have been slim, the fact he actually shows up and talks to people might cut the magnitude of the loss.
He believes that by letting people get an in-person sense of who and what he is – and that he cared enough about them to actually come there -- might swing a few votes.
It is, after all, a statewide race. And getting, say, 30 percent out of Cooke County, rather than 15 percent, and energizing some voters who otherwise would stay home, may help to add to majorities he's expected to rack up in more Democrat-friendly places, like Dallas and Travis Counties.
All that said, O'Rourke is still polling a few points behind Cruz. A Quinnipiac University poll released in late May showed O'Rourke at 39 percent, while Cruz was at 50 percent.
A poll by the same group in mid-April had shown the race with just a three-point spread, 47 percent for Cruz to 44 for O'Rourke – within the poll's 3.6 percent margin of error.
One result of the more recent poll, that cuts both bad and possibly good for O'Rourke, is that while Cruz is very widely known in the state, O'Rourke is still unknown to half of Texans polled.
Cruz got a 49 percent positive rating, and 38 percent negative. O'Rourke had a 30 percent positive and 19 percent negative.
So while O'Rourke is still relatively unknown, the potential silver lining is that almost half of the people who already know Cruz don't like him.
If O'Rourke is able to beat Cruz to the punch, and define himself positively to voters who don't yet know him before Cruz and his PACS define O'Rourke negatively, he may be able to gain some steps.
And now that the dust from the May 22 runoff primaries has largely cleared, voters may be paying more attention.
It should be an interesting summer, and fall. Stay tuned.