Beto O’Rourke’s battle against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas on Tuesday might be the most talked-about midterm election in the country.
That’s because the 46-year-old Democrat is one of the more unconventional candidates in the running, especially when compared with Cruz, 47, who’s a political institution within the state. O’Rourke — who’s been a congressman for Texas’ 16th district, which includes most of El Paso county, since 2013 — is also causing a stir thanks to his viral skateboarding photos and his progressive stances, but he’s still a bit of a mystery.
Here’s what you need to know about Beto O’Rourke.
1. Barack Obama didn’t endorse him — and O’Rourke was fine with it.
Earlier this month, the former president released a list of 300 names of Democrat candidates running in the November midterms that he supported, and O’Rourke’s name was notably missing. Still, the El Paso native wasn’t bothered by the apparent snub, telling the crowd at a town hall a few days later, “I don’t think we’re interested [in an endorsement]. I am so grateful to him for his service, he’s going to go down as one of the greatest presidents. And yet, this [election] is on Texas.”
According to Newsweek, a former senior Obama official said that O’Rourke was left off the list because his race is in Texas and Obama didn’t want to set himself up as a foil.
2. O’Rourke made demeaning comments about women in 1991, which he recently apologized for.
When he was a student at Columbia University, the father of three wrote a review of the Broadway musical The Will Rogers Follies and described the actresses as having “perma-smiles,” with their only qualifications being “phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks.” The story ran in the October edition of the Columbia Daily Spectator, when he was 19, according to the El Paso Times.
Earlier this month, he apologized for his words about women in a statement to Politico. “I am ashamed of what I wrote and I apologize. There is no excuse for making disrespectful and demeaning comments about women,” O’Rourke said.
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3. One of the first times O’Rourke claimed the national spotlight was with his speech about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
A clip of impassioned comments O’Rourke made at a town hall went viral in early August. When asked if he thought the protests were “disrespectful,” O’Rourke responded, “My short answer is: No, I don’t think it’s disrespectful.”
As the audience applauded, the Stanton Street founder continued, “Peaceful, nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability, and without justice.
“And this problem — as grave as it is — is not going to fix itself, and they’re frustrated, frankly, with people like me and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country,” O’Rourke said.
He added: “And so nonviolently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. That is why they are doing it. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, in any place.”
His words quickly wracked up millions of views and shares.
4. O’Rourke is known for his “cool guy” persona because he skateboards and was in a band.
And the GOP actually tried to shame him for it, but to no avail. The Texas GOP Twitter account tweeted out multiple throwback photos of O’Rourke in late August. In the first, a younger O’Rourke holds a skateboard. The next is a group shot of O’Rourke’s former punk rock band, Foss, and the last is his mugshot.
The Texas GOP sent the images into the Twittersphere as retaliation for O’Rourke refusing to debate Cruz that week, as shown in the captions. “Sorry, can’t debate. We have a gig,” one reads. Another states, “Sorry, I’m going to have to skate on the debate on Friday. I just got the killer board. I’m sure the voters won’t mind.”
Soon after, Twitter users started questioning the GOP’s logic in sharing the images — because what’s really that shameful about being in a rock band?
“This makes me like him more,” one person wrote. “We need elected officials who’ve lived life, who aren’t walking corpses in suits.” Another replied with footage of O’Rourke playing the guitar in 1994.
More recently, O’Rourke made headlines for skateboarding across the stage before giving a speech at a campaign event in Corpus Christie.
5. Experts say that because of Texas’ deep red history, O’Rourke likely will not beat Cruz — no matter how much the media loves him.
According to The New York Times, Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic candidate to win statewide office in 24 years.
What’s more, an op-ed in the Texas Tribune stated that Democrats have lost to Republicans by about a million votes, give or take, in recent elections, which means that a victory for O’Rourke would rely heavily on turnout, largely Democrats who’ve never voted in a midterm before.