WIN­NING FOR LOS­ING

Democrats rise from de­feat in midterms with more in­flu­ence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Rep. Beto O’Rourke has gone philo­soph­i­cal since he nearly topped Sen. Ted Cruz in the midterm elec­tions, pub­licly mus­ing on­line about a va­ri­ety of top­ics, in­clud­ing knee pains, pick­ing a bath­room, Lin­coln’s se­cond in­au­gu­ral ad­dress and a change in the po­lit­i­cal winds. To some, it may have been over­shar­ing. But to fans of the Texas Demo­crat, in­clud­ing those who ponied up some $70 mil­lion to power his failed Se­nate bid, they saw what they had been wait­ing for: a sig­nal that Mr. O’Rourke would rise stronger from his de­feat, with his eye on the White House in 2020.

More than any other elec­tion in re­cent po­lit­i­cal his­tory, the 2018 midterms have cre­ated a slew of Demo­cratic mar­tyrs — can­di­dates who lost their races, but emerged with big­ger na­tional pro­files and higher am­bi­tions.

There’s also Stacey Abrams in Ge­or­gia and An­drew Gil­lum in Flor­ida, both are black Democrats who lost their gu­ber­na­to­rial races. Both have emerged with deep street cred among lib­eral ac­tivists.

“In three very dif­fer­ent races, Stacey Abrams, An­drew Gil­lum and Beto O’Rourke ran smart cam­paigns that openly de­fied con­ven­tional wis­dom in D.C., fo­cused on in­spir­ing and mo­bi­liz­ing vot­ers from the new Amer­i­can ma­jor­ity that most in Wash­ing­ton tell can­di­dates to ig­nore, and turned elec­tions that should have never been com­pet­i­tive into his­tor­i­cally close con­tests,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democ­racy for Amer­ica.

What’s next for them re­mains to be seen.

Low-dol­lar donors and Hol­ly­wood stars are all cheer­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that Mr. O’Rourke will run for the White House, while Ms. Abrams told CNN she’s not done with elec­tions.

“I do in­deed in­tend to run for of­fice again, I’m not sure for what and I am not ex­actly cer­tain when,” she said.

And even Pres­i­dent Trump pre­dicted Mr. Gil­lum has a fu­ture, call­ing him “a force to reckon with!’”

Each of the three took dif­fer­ent tac­tics fol­low­ing Elec­tion Day.

Mr. O’Rourke quickly and gra­ciously con­ceded, then turned his at­ten­tion to his in­ter­net mus­ings and his day job on Capi­tol Hill, where he is serv­ing out the rest of his House term.

Mr. Gil­lum con­ceded, then re­canted, then re-con­ceded last week­end, but left most of the le­gal jock­ey­ing over Flor­ida’s vote count to Sen. Bill Nel­son, a fel­low Demo­crat who bit­terly fought to the end in a los­ing bid to un­cover enough votes to win his own race.

Ms. Abrams has ac­knowl­edged Repub­li­can Brian Kemp as the vic­tor. But she re­fused to call his elec­tion le­git­i­mate and has said she’s form­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose first act will be to sue Mr. Kemp over vot­ing rules in Ge­or­gia.

That has helped boost her own mar­tyr’s pro­file.

Christy Set­zer, a Demo­cratic strate­gist, said Democrats will al­ways doubt the out­come of the race be­cause of the is­sues Ms. Abrams raised, par­tic­u­larly be­cause Mr. Kemp had been sec­re­tary of state dur­ing the vot­ing.

Ms. Set­zer said Ms. Abrams’ de­fi­ant stance “gave Democrats ex­actly what they wanted to hear: A vow that she’d make the play­ing field more even next time.”

“That’s an at­trac­tive mes­sage not just in Ge­or­gia, but na­tion­ally — es­pe­cially when the Demo­cratic base is fu­ri­ous with party lead­ers for not stand­ing up to Trump or any­one who’s bend­ing the rules,” Ms. Set­zer said. “Her fu­ture is bright.”

Mo Ellei­thee, for­mer spokesman for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said the three tapped into vot­ers’ hunger for can­di­dates that clearly “ar­tic­u­late a pro­gres­sive mes­sage” and for fresh faces in Demo­cratic lead­er­ship.

“There are a lot of peo­ple out there that have been say­ing that the Demo­cratic bench is thin and I think th­ese can­di­dates have shown that is not true,” he said. “Peo­ple are go­ing to keep eyes on them and see what their next moves are, whether or not they can keep work­ing in their states to con­tinue mov­ing the ball down the field, or whether or not there is room for them some­where else — run­ning for fed­eral of­fice, or land­ing a po­si­tion in a fu­ture ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Mr. O’Rourke has turned him­self into an in­stant pres­i­den­tial con­tender, ac­cord­ing to a Politico/Morn­ing Con­sult poll last week that showed the Texan run­ning third in the likely field of Demo­cratic 2020 as­pi­rants, trail­ing only for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den and Sen. Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont.

His in­ter­net mus­ings, in a post on Medium.com, seemed in­tent on cap­i­tal­iz­ing on his pop­u­lar­ity, as he pon­dered a morn­ing run amid the snow, hav­ing to use his down­stairs bath­room be­cause the up­stairs shower was oc­cu­pied, lin­ger­ing knee pains and Pres­i­dent Lin­coln’s words carved into his memo­rial on the Na­tional Mall.

“The sleet sting­ing my face, I won­dered if the winds had changed too,” Mr. O’Rourke con­cluded, send­ing com­menters into a tizzy of ex­cite­ment that he was hint­ing at a pres­i­den­tial run.

“Beto is lov­ing in the lime­light,” said Mark P. Jones, po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Rice Uni­ver­sity. “He has the at­ten­tion of the na­tion. So he is milk­ing it a lit­tle bit.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Democrats Rep. Beto O’Rourke (right) of Texas, Ge­or­gia gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Stacey Abrams (top in­set) and Flor­ida gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date An­drew Gil­lum have gained na­tional pro­files.

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