- Photo by Alex Zielinski
This is everything Roseanne Penningroth knew about U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke before hearing him speak Thursday evening. There was really just one reason she decided to attend O’Rourke’s San Antonio stop on a whirlwind campaign tour across Texas: “He’s not Ted Cruz.”
It was of the main reasons some 200 people gathered outside Southerleigh Brewery to listen to O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat hoping to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
He quickly proved them right, kicking off the event with by comparing his run for U.S. Senate to touring with his high school punk band.
“We were writing our own songs, we had no record label or corporate producer. Our music was just the stripped down, basic roots of rock and roll, and people connected with that,” O'Rourke said.
“Since we launched this run for Senate two weeks ago, it’s felt a lot like that — rock and roll at it’s roots. And it’s making this campaign a helluva lot of fun.”
O’Rourke knows he’s up against some serious odds. If he beats Cruz in 2018, he’ll be the first Texas Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in nearly thirty years. That’s why he’s replacing the standard election strategy with a punk rock mentality: no consultants, no pollsters, no corporate donations, no political action committees. If he’s going up against Cruz, the Tea Party sweetheart backed by billionaire donors, he’s going to do it his way.
In his Thursday speech, O’Rourke lingered on issues that particularly affect his West Texas district — like immigration, access to health care, women’s reproductive health, and LGBT rights — but emphasized his goal to represent all Texans, from Lubbock to Laredo. In fact, O’Rourke has made an effort in his two-week-old campaign to visit the small, often conservative, towns that lie between metropolitan areas like San Antonio that regularly vote Democrat.
“We’re going to run a 254-county campaign, listening and talking to everyone,” O’Rourke said. “Everybody counts, nobody is written off.”
O’Rourke managed to avoided mentioning Cruz’ name the entire night. Instead, his criticism was aimed directly at President Donald Trump. Singling people out because of their religion, race, gender identity, or citizenship, like Trump’s done in his bevy of executive orders and tweets — that’s just not Texan.
“It’s weak, it’s small, it’s mean...and I gotta tell you, that’s not Texas,” he said. “We’re big, we’re kind hearted, we’re confident, we’re strong, we got this. We’re not afraid of the rest of the world, we’re not afraid of the future, we’re not going to wall ourselves off.”
After answering questions from the crowd, O’Rourke lingered for photos and handshakes.
Roseanne Penningroth and her husband Eric said they were pleased — and inspired — by O’Rourke’s spiel. Both work at Fort Sam Houston, and were delighted to hear the Congressman’s interest in cutting the fed’s war costs and improving access to affordable health care. “We’re impressed,” Eric said, and Roseanne nodded in agreement.
But do they think he has a chance?
“If he can fire up people everywhere like he did here tonight,” Eric said, “then, yes.”