Barack Obama endorsed more than 250 candidates during the 2018 midterm elections, including 11 in the state of Texas. Beto O’Rourke was not one of them. “I don’t think we’re interested,” O’Rourke said when asked back in October about being left off the ex-president’s list.
O’Rourke was, at the time, in the midst of making an equal-opportunity pitch to Republicans, Independents and Democrats, and it’s possible that he made a calculation that Willie Nelson’s endorsement would be a lot more valuable in convincing the conservative voters that he needed in his fight against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). But the election has passed, and O’Rourke, apparently, has changed his mind.
A week and a half after narrowly losing the closely-watched Texas Senate race, the soon to be ex-congressman from El Paso met with the ex-president at Obama’s office in Washington D.C., the Washington Post reports. Obama must have liked what he heard, because at a live podcast taping four days after their November 16th meeting, he told his former strategist, David Axelrod, that O’Rourke was a “very impressive young man” who reminded him of himself.
“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant,” Obama told Axelrod. “What I oftentimes am looking for first and foremost is: Do you seem to mean it? Are you in this thing because you have a strong set of convictions that you are willing to risk things for?”
The former president added: “What I liked most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested. It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly it’s not.”
Obama is not the only one who sees the similarities. A week and a half after the reported Obama-O’Rourke summit, Dan Pfeiffer, who served as senior adviser to Obama, published “The Case for Beto O’Rourke” on the website of Crooked Media, which co-founded with three other ex-administration officials. Not only does O’Rourke (a friend of the pod, natch) remind him of his old boss, Pfeiffer wrote that in certain respects he outshines him.
“I have never seen a Senate candidate—including Obama in 2004—inspire the sort of enthusiasm that Beto did in his race,” Pfeiffer wrote. “This is about more than Lebron [sic] wearing a Beto hat, or Beyonce sporting one on Instagram. It’s about the people all over the country with no connection to Texas with signs in their yards and stickers on their cars. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who gave small dollar donations because they were inspired by his candidacy and moved by his pledge not to take PAC money…The enthusiasm is real and matters. If Beto were to go to Iowa City next week, I am confident he would draw a crowd three times larger than any candidate has since Obama first stumped there.”
Pfeiffer went on to note that first-time voters, who made up one-fifth of the electorate in 2018, went for O’Rourke by 14 points, and that he performed 12 points better with independents than Hillary Clinton did. (He didn’t mention that O’Rourke fared worse with rural voters in Texas than Obama did in 2012.)
His impassioned argument on O’Rourke’s behalf was followed by murmurings from even more former Obama aides. “Beto has a special ability — like President Obama did — to make people believe in the best version of America,” Lauren Pardi, who worked on Obama’s campaign in New Hampshire, told NBC News.
There was, one notable cynic among the Obama alumni: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. “If Beto O’Rourke wants to go and run for president, God bless him, he should put his hat in and make his case,” Emanuel told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “But, he lost. You don’t usually promote a loser to the top of party.”
Emanuel may have a point, but Obama appears open to hearing everyone seeking his advice for 2020 out, regardless of whether they won or lost. CNN’s Rebecca Buck reported Wednesday that Obama met the day before with another charismatic Southern Democrat who captured Democrats imagination then broke their hearts: Andrew Gillum. (Per the Washington Post, the former president has also had meetings with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu.)