Fresh off a bruising end to his 2020 presidential campaign, Beto O'Rourke is pouring his efforts into a Texas state house race observers consider a bellwether for whether Democrats can turn the state legislature blue later this year.
O'Rourke and national Democrats are boosting Democrat Eliz Markowitz as she tries to flip suburban Houston's District 28 in Tuesday's special election. O'Rourke, who founded the political action committee Powered by the People last month to fund Texas Democrats, told a crowd Jan. 10 that he had found "purpose and function again" through the District 28 race.
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"There was a time when we were … wondering just what our purpose was on this planet," O'Rourke told supporters. "But in doing this for Eliz, and being part of Powered by the People, I really have found that purpose and function again and I’m really hopeful about our country, about this race, about Texas, but just on a very personal level."
Politico described the race as an "early test" for both parties in the nationwide battle over state legislatures in 2020, and the Texas Observer called it a "weathervane for the Texas suburbs." O'Rourke's efforts reflect the emphasis Democrats are placing on the special election to replace a retiring Republican legislator.
"[I'm] very focused on helping to mobilize volunteers in critical state House races like HD 28 in Fort Bend, and others in the Fort Worth/Dallas area, so that we can win the state House," O’Rourke said earlier this month, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
O'Rourke has made District 28's Fort Bend County his "second home" over the past month, the Texas Tribune reports, spending days at a time campaigning for Markowitz against Republican Gary Gates. He said Powered by the People brought 1,000 people to the district.
O'Rourke isn't Markowitz's only supporter among past and present 2020 contenders. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has organized volunteers for the Democrat, and former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) have endorsed her.
Democrats need to flip nine house seats to gain a majority. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee touted a poll Sunday showing Markowitz "neck and neck" with Gates.
However, the Tribune reported Democrats are lowering expectations in the final days before the election and shifting attention to other districts, while Republicans feel confident Gates will win after a strong showing in the early voting period. A decisive victory could be a blow to Democratic confidence, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars Markowitz has received in outside spending.
O'Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso, catapulted to state and national stardom during his failed 2018 bid to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Tex.). He used his narrow loss as a springboard for a presidential campaign, but he never gained traction in the crowded field and dropped out in November.