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Kanelis: Can Beto Ride Youthful Exuberance All the Way to the White House?

Beto O'Rourke addressed an audience of about 100 people in Greenville in 2018.
Mark Haslett
Beto O'Rourke addressed an audience of about 100 people in Greenville in 2018.

Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke has done what political pundits from coast to coast to coast have speculated he would do. He has declared he is a candidate for president of the United States of America.

Let me lay this out right away: I remain skeptical about O’Rourke’s presidential aspirations. A part of me wants to back him; another part of me wonders about his chops and whether he has the seasoning required to hold down the highest office in the land – and arguably the most visible public office in the world. OK, let’s exempt the Queen of England and the Holy Father Pope Francis I from that list . . . but you get my drift.

I also will stipulate that I used my own blog (High Plains Blogger) to push for O’Rourke’s election in 2018 to the U.S. Senate. He needed to defeat the man I refer to as the Cruz Missile, Sen. Ted Cruz, the Houston Republican who made an immediate name for himself as a senator in 2013 by questioning whether Vietnam War combat vets John Kerry and Chuck Hagel had a clear appreciation for our nation’s defense needs.

O’Rourke fell short. Cruz is still in the Senate.

It is that near-miss that has propelled O’Rourke to the top of the political charts.

I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to suggest that prior to his 2018 Senate campaign, few Americans outside of El Paso County knew Beto O’Rourke’s name, let alone what he did for a living at the time, which was to represent his hometown of El Paso in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That has changed. A one-time unknown congressional back-bencher has become talk of the town, so to speak.

He announced his 2020 presidential campaign and then jetted off to Iowa – the site of the first 2020 presidential contest – to meet voters, answer their questions and acquaint himself with the issues unique to the Hawkeye State. He’ll do the same thing in New Hampshire, South Carolina and any of the other early-presidential-primary states.

Oh, wait! Texas is among them! He knows this state pretty well, He visited all 254 Texas counties in search of votes against Sen. Cruz. Beto returned repeatedly to heavily Republican regions of the state, such as the Panhandle and the Permian Basin.

How well can this young man (he’s in his mid-40s) connect with Americans? He has a good start with college students and other millennials. I am transported down my own version of Memory Lane as I watch college students swoon at the sight of Beto. I am reminded of how it used to be in 1968 when another “Robert Francis” sought the presidency: Robert F. Kennedy. RFK took the Democratic Party primary season by storm when he (finally!) entered the presidential campaign. He campaigned with a frenzy until tragedy struck him down in June of that year.

I sense a certain frenetic similarity these days with Beto O’Rourke.

He has gone from nobody to a serious somebody. How? By losing a Senate contest by just a little bit in a state in which he should have lost by a lot.

Now he’s after the biggest political prize of them all.

Let us hold on with both hands.        

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.

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