vision 2020

A Beto Reboot Is in the Works, As His Campaign Sags

Post-boomlet Beto in California late last month. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke is planning what one adviser called a “reintroduction” of his presidential campaign after failing to sustain the attention of Democratic voters on the national stage. O’Rouke, who climbed onto the top counter of the Democratic Party with his inspired (but unsuccessful) Senate run last year, has seen his poll numbers plummet in recent weeks. A South Carolina poll published Sunday showed a seven-point drop from a month ago, with O’Rourke now tied with entrepreneur Andrew Yang at just two percent. Overall, Beto is doing terribly in just about every metric the polling analysts can examine, including national polls, google searches, and media mentions.

O’Rourke launched a makeshift presidential campaign in mid-March in the hope that the enthusiasm that he generated across Texas would catch on nationally, but his hot (and undoubtedly over-hyped) start didn’t last. According to the Associated Press, Beto and his advisers have since realized that their initial strategy was not well suited to competing in such a crowded field of contenders:

[O’Rourke has] made few promises that resonated or produced headline-grabbing moments, instead driving around the country meeting with voters at mostly small events.

In a tacit recognition that this approach isn’t working, O’Rourke is planning to try again, taking a hands-on role in staging a “reintroduction” ahead of next month’s premier Democratic presidential debate. As he finalizes his plans, O’Rourke has entered an intentional “quiet period” to build out campaign infrastructure, according to an adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the campaign’s strategy.

O’Rourke’s hot hand, GOTV success, and Betomania-attracting charisma earned him some praise and free advice from Obama-world veterans after the midterms, and — almost two weeks after launching his presidential bid — he brought on former Obama ‘12 deputy campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon to run the show. The campaign has also recently hired one of the architects of Barack Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, delegate strategist Jeff Berman (and the campaigns may all need expert help on that front). But otherwise, two months in, Beto for America has 16 (recently hired) staffers in Iowa, and none in New Hampshire, where the campaign has been relying on grassroots organizers.

But while O’Rourke has been staffing up and figuring out how his visit-every-county strategy of his Texas Senate campaign may not translate to national politics, the dynamics of the race have shifted away from him. Beto isn’t the only fresh-faced, hope-emphasizing candidate in the race anymore, thanks to the rise — for now — of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And then there is recent entrant Joe Biden to compete with for the Obama donors, the Obama mantle, and the centrist vote.

Beto has also had little to add to the nomination debate on the policy side, while others, like Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and most prominently, Elizabeth Warren, have been rolling out a range of ideas for fixing the country’s ills. Beto, whose primary established skill is as a communicator, has not even been in the conversation, except for his sort-of-okay proposal about what he says is his signature issue, climate change. When Beto has gotten a news blip, it’s been over novelties like his tabletop speechifyinghis membership in a famous hacker group, a bad joke he made about housework, or, over the past week, how poorly his campaign is going.

The conversations O’Rourke has been in have been with small groups of voters, and his aides insisted to the AP that he wouldn’t stop doing that, and that Beto rebooted won’t be “Beto 2.0.” Whatever version does or doesn’t come next — and we may see it soon as O’Rourke is going on a mini media blitz this week — even an ex-punk rocker who has helped Texas lean purple future is going to have trouble getting a third chance to make a better first impression.

A Beto Reboot Is in the Works, As His Campaign Sags