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Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Ted Cruz in the race for a seat in the Senate in Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Ted Cruz in the race for a seat in the Senate in Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Beto O’Rourke’s odyssey for the Latino vote

The campaign of Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke in Texas has put the Latino vote at the center. The results set an example for campaigns nationwide.

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One of the most important battles in the midterm elections is for the U.S. Senate in Texas.

The comfort of the position held by the Republican and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz in the conservative heart of Texas is now a topic of debate in national politics, in the middle of the anti-Latino campaign of the Trump administration and at a time when returning the majority to the Democrats in Congress is crucial.

Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke, politician and businessman from El Paso, has come to the ring to challenge Cruz for the position, making himself known in the region thanks to his charismatic personality and the constant comparison that has been made with New York Senator Bobby Kennedy.

O'Rourke has led an "unprecedented" campaign, traveling to all Texas counties, including rural areas, explained Christine Bolaños in her column for Remezcla.

His direct communication with the electorate, a grassroots political strategy that has characterized successful campaigns during these primaries, "has not gone unnoticed, particularly by key Latino voters, including those who traditionally vote conservative or may be undecided," Bolaños continues.

The fundamental paradox of this race has been Cruz's reluctance to appropriate his Hispanic roots (even abandoning his original name of Rafael for Edward), versus O'Rourke's powerful campaign to get the support of Hispanic votes, making use of his Hispanic nickname "Beto" since the beginning.

In a region where no Democrat has managed to win in almost 25 years, and where participation in elections has not been overwhelming (only 28 percent of registered voters tend to participate), driving the minority vote is fundamental to achieve the so-called "Blue Wave" in the elections this November.

"More than 2.1 million eligible Latinos in Texas didn’t vote in 2016," explains the Los Angeles Times. "As college-educated, white suburban voters in places like Houston and Dallas migrate toward the Democrats in unexpected numbers, rattling the state's electoral map, Democrats sense new opportunities they haven’t had before. Turning those into actual victories for statewide candidates, however, depends on turning out more of those non-voting Latino citizens.”

For this, O'Rourke has made use of his Spanish “with an accent” on advertising campaigns and events in the company of characters such as music legend Willie Nelson, advocating for progressive action on thorny topics such as the legalization of marijuana, climate change and LGBTQ issues, a risky strategy before a traditionally conservative state such as Texas.

Videos showing a skater Beto in a Whataburger parking lot, his punk rocker reputation as a teenager, and his opposition to money from political action committees have completed the profile of a candidate who wants to change the way in which Texans are perceived in national politics, pointing to the vote of minorities and millennials that have become one of the most important electoral forces during the last two years.

O'Rourke has been a spokesperson for the right to a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the recognition of undocumented workers as a fundamental force in the economic growth of the country; he has recognized the privilege of the white man and the struggle of the colored man for the same rights, simultaneously encouraging Hispanic colleagues such as Lupe Valdez and Verónica Escobar in the struggle to recognize the Latino strength in the state.

If a white man can embrace the struggle of the Hispanic American in Texas, there is no reason why national Democrats can’t do the same and finally conquer the Latino vote, giving the country the change it deserves.

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