True to form, a video of Beto O’Rourke skateboarding through a Whataburger parking lot in Brownsville became the defining moment of his visit to the Rio Grande Valley Saturday.
It certainly wasn’t the first the El Paso congressman proved he is an unconventional candidate. Getting people’s attention -- or at the very least, getting them to know his name -- is the best O’Rourke can do in his efforts to unseat U.S. Senator Ted Cruz this November.
Though it is difficult for any Democrat to stand a chance in a statewide race in Texas, O’Rourke boasts a unique momentum. Recent polls have him just two and six points behind Cruz and his campaign announced that they’d be spending $1.27 million on television ads, including one that ran in late July.
Last weekend, O’Rourke made campaign stops dubbed “Musica con Beto” along Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville. Seven lesser-known Democratic candidates for statewide offices hopped on O’Rourke’s events this weekend, too.
Kathy Cheng is a lawyer from Houston and Democratic candidate for Texas Supreme Court Place 6. The first-generation Taiwanese immigrant pointed out that there has been no diversity on that board, which is currently filled by Republicans.
“There’s nothing sexy about the judicial race,” Cheng said to the crowd at Cine El Rey. “Judicial candidates have long been forgotten, but let me tell you folks, It’s important… Judicial races are equally important because we’re the ones who interpret the law and apply it for Texans.”
Roman McAllen, whose great-grandfather is the City of McAllen’s namesake, is running for Texas Railroad Commissioner, which he points out has “absolutely nothing to do with railroads,” and more to do with regulating the oil and gas industry.
The Denton resident said he differs from the current Texas Railroad Commission in that he believes in climate change and would make decisions that would stop “putting short-term profits and wealth creation for a very select few over the general health and welfare and education of all of us.”
“We have to continue to extract fossil fuels but we must do so knowing that the end time for oil and gas will come,” McAllen said.
Joi Chevalier, Democratic candidate for Texas Comptroller, asked the crowd if they knew what the Texas Comptroller's office even does, and received a single “Whoo” from the over 250-person audience.
She then explained that the state comptroller takes the state budget, certifies it and executes it. She hopes to use that authority to make suggestions on healthcare and education, she said.
Chevalier is the first black woman on a statewide ticket for the Democratic party, and is a Technologist from Austin. She said she’s run projects with budgets comparable to the states $216 billion budget.
Justin Nelson, Democratic candidate for attorney general and professor of law at the The University of Texas Law School, said in his first day in office he would pull Texas out of the lawsuit that seeks to end DACA, another lawsuit that seeks to end protections from those with preexisting conditions and will work to end gerrymandering in the state.
His opponent, incumbent Ken Paxton, was indicted for securities fraud in Collin County in 2015 but has yet to see a trial date. Nelson hopes voters will take that into consideration at the polls.
“Justice is for all,” Nelson yelled into the microphone, causing his voice to crack. “Justice is for everybody.”
Mike Collier, an auditor from Houston and the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, self-described himself as “Dan Patrick's worst nightmare,” and said he’d fight for education reform, among other issues.
Democratic candidate for Governor and former Dallas County Sheriff, Lupe Valdez, greeted the crowd with an anecdote.
She told a story about a time when she was a young girl and her family was driving back to Texas from an agriculture job in Michigan. They stopped to get food at a restaurant near Dallas, but they were met with a sign that said “No dogs, no negros, no Mexicans.”
When her father offered the owners money, he was told they would make an exception, but he had to purchase the food from the back of the store.
“My dad, being the proud man that he is, he told everybody to get back in the car,” she said. “And In 2004, a Hispanic, female, lesbian, Democrat in a red county -- I was elected the sheriff of the same town that turned us away.”
Unlike the close match between O’Rourke and Cruz, Valdez faces a much steeper challenge, with most polls showing her about 12 points behind incumbent governor Greg Abbott.
“Yes it, it’s an uphill battle,” Valdez said. “But in 2018, with your help, we’re going to take this pinche hill.”
Cristela Alonzo, a comedian, actress and the only non-politician to speak at the event, introduced O’Rourke, who she’s been traveling with throughout the past week.
O’Rourke gave a speech similar to those he’s given the past six times he’s come to McAllen, and several more times he’s visited other Valley cities. Attendance was so high at Cine El Rey, overflow was sent over to Suerte Bar & Grill a few doors down where they watched his address via livestream.
“McAllen, the Rio Grande Valley, the U.S.-Mexico Border, in so many ways for me, is the center of the universe,” O’Rourke said, justifying his many visits to the heavily Democratic region.
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