Expert Alert: Texas’ O’Rourke is in; Rice political scientists available to comment


David Ruth

Texas’ O’Rourke is in; Rice political scientists available to comment 

HOUSTON – (March 14, 2019) – After months of traveling the country and receiving the blessing of his family, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has jumped into the already-crowded pool of Democratic candidates vying for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump in 2020. The Texan announced he was running in an early morning video Thursday and is currently making visits in Iowa.

Professor Bob Stein teaching

Bob Stein

Rice University political scientists Bob Stein and Mark Jones are available for news media interviews.

Stein said there are several factors that might enhance O’Rourke’s chances in the Democratic presidential primary sweepstakes.

“First, he is in sync with a large number of voters who are not aligned with traditional Democratic policies, including younger voters and progressives,” said Stein, Rice’s Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science. “Moreover, these voters have significantly increased their presence in the electorate with the 2018 midterm election. His fundraising prowess during the Texas Senate race demonstrated national breadth, an advantage as he seeks the Democratic nomination.

“His campaign style is well-suited for a 24-hour, social-media-driven election, where he demonstrated an ability, like President Trump, to bypass national media and connect directly with voters. The absence of a winner-take-all rule for the primaries helps lesser-known candidates like O’Rourke to stay in the race longer and gain momentum over the early primaries, including the March 2020 Texas primary. O’Rourke, unlike (Bernie) Sanders, (Joe) Biden, (Kamala) Harris and others, has a thin record to pick at. He can still define himself as moderate, left and anything in between.”

Mark Jones. Photo credit: Michael Stravato for Rice University's Baker Institute.

Mark Jones

Jones, the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies, professor of political science, fellow in political science at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and fellow at Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, said “O’Rourke’s campaign starts with several positives. These include his ability to connect on a personal level with voters, proven ability to raise money and moderate an ideological profile, which places him in the much-less crowded Democratic center lane. He will also benefit from the lack of a day-job, which will allow him to devote all of his time to the campaign (unlike many of his rivals who have day jobs in the U.S. Congress).

“O’Rourke’s campaign also starts with several negatives,” Jones said. “These include his light political resume as only a three-term U.S. House member, his somewhat disorganized campaign style and his centrist profile in a Democratic Party that is veering increasingly to the left.

“To remain a top-tier candidate through the summer O’Rourke will need to show he can replicate his U.S. Senate campaign’s fundraising success, create a nationwide political campaign infrastructure in the early primary and caucus states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) as well as in the more than 20 states that will hold primaries and caucuses in March — especially in the mega-states of California and New York. He will also have to successfully fend off negative campaigning from the left which will attack him for his centrist voting record in Congress, lack of experience and privileged status as a member of the 1 percent.”

There had been speculation that O’Rourke might challenge Republican Sen. John Cornyn for his seat in 2020. His run for president opens the door for other Texas Democrats to take on Cornyn, Stein said.

To schedule an interview with Stein or Jones, contact David Ruth at or 713-348-6327.

Rice University has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7. Rice also has a university backdrop, 1080p webcam, light kit and wireless mic for Skype interviews.

Stein photo courtesy of Rice University.
Jones photo courtesy of Michael Stravato for Rice University’s Baker Institute.

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About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.