DALLAS — His reception in Iowa was warm, but it’s a place where voters don’t yet know enough about Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who declared his candidacy for president on Thursday.
But Miguel Solis knows Beto better than most.
“The Beto I know is really not any different from the Beto the public knows. He’s an authentic guy. He’s genuine,” Solis said. “He has people at the forefront of what he’s interested in, and he’s been a very good family friend.”
Solis and O’Rourke met because of politics. Solis is a former Dallas ISD school board member and a current candidate for Dallas mayor. He campaigned for O’Rourke during the 2018 senate campaign.
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“What Beto brings to this candidacy is a new fresh approach,” Solis said. “Voters want to see someone who is willing to try some unconventional things and I think you’ll see how that will resonate across the nation in the same way it resonated here in Texas.”
While Solis believes O’Rourke will be able to define himself as courageous, inclusive and innovative, President Donald Trump tried, on the first day of Beto’s campaign, to define him as “crazy.”
“I think he’s got a lot of hand movement,” the president said when asked by reporters what he thought of O’Rourke’s announcement. “I’ve never seen so much hand movement. I said is he crazy? Or is that just the way he acts?”
On Thursday in Iowa, O’Rourke went on the attack against Trump.
“Any single democrat running today, and I may not be able to enumerate every single one of them right now, would be far better than the current occupant of the White House,” he said in Keokuk, Iowa.
“It doesn’t matter which prospective nominee you back now,” he added. “Ultimately we all have to get on board the same person because it is fundamental to our chances of success that we defeat Donald Trump in 2020.”
University of Texas at Dallas political scientist Howard Clarke said O’Rourke has several things going for him: he is young, charismatic, and liberal – which democrats want. But Clarke pointed out those same characteristics might be liabilities in a general election: a lack of substantive policy-making experience, and liberal stances that might be too left-leaning for moderates.
Clarke said O’Rourke’s recent loss to Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate campaign is not necessarily a bad thing.
“I think losing as a Democrat - a liberal Democrat – and losing by only about 2 points to an incumbent senator in Texas, paradoxically shows strength rather than weakness,” Clarke said.
Solis said O’Rourke’s showing in that campaign proves Texas is a battleground in 2020.
“Texas is a state that can no longer be taken for granted,” he said.
He has yet to publicly back O’Rourke because he has two other friends in the race: Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Julian Castro of San Antonio. He said he’s hoping to see all the candidates spend significant time in Texas.
“This could go a whole bunch of different ways,” Solis said. “In the last 24 hours I have sent a message to Beto and let him know my wife and I are thinking about him and Amy.”
“We’ve got a great relationship and I’m looking forward to talking to him and seeing how we may be able to engage throughout the campaign.”