U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (R-El Paso) gives a speech at a LGBTQ+ town hall at Casa Azul de Andrea on July 13, 2018.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) gives a speech at a LGBTQIA town hall at Casa Azul de Andrea. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) found a rare moment of solitude Saturday after taking hundreds of selfies and meeting supporters at the new San Antonio field office for his U.S. Senate campaign.

O’Rourke snapped a smartphone photo himself of a mural displayed just outside the campaign’s Austin Street office. He discovered that, as he suspected, the depiction of an indigenous pair on a two-seater bicycle was created by Los Dos, two muralists from his hometown.

His campaign staffers beckoned from an idling vehicle, and he was off to the next event in his all-day campaign stop in San Antonio, which included a World Cup watch party on the far West Side, an LGBTQIA town hall in King William, and the field office opening.

Fresh off the news that his campaign had outpaced that of his opponent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in fundraising to the tune of $10.4 million in the second quarter and a June poll that showed he was trailing the senator by 5 points, the O’Rourke camp is riding high.

Kathleen Burt, a lifelong Republican, said she is voting for O’Rourke in hopes of tipping a Republican majority in the Senate that dates back to 2015.

The stakes are high, she said, as Burt believes that she and her wife Gina Hoover could have their marriage certificate voided if a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives overturns gay marriage. Burt and Hoover own a home together in Alamo Ranch, and Burt, who is on disability and uses a motorized wheelchair, is on Hoover’s health insurance plan.

“It’s a possibility there is a wave of people like me who are energized by this guy,” Burt said. “He’s standing outside, his shirt is soaked with sweat, he’s meeting the people. When’s the last time you’ve seen a politician do that? They don’t sweat.”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (R-El Paso) gives a speech at a LGBTQ+ town hall at Casa Azul de Andrea on July 13, 2018.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) gives a speech at a LGBTQIA town hall at Casa Azul de Andrea. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Jesse Gonzales, a retired state employee living in Northwest San Antonio, said he has not received a raise in his pension annuities in 15 years. He said that and other factors have made him and others like him poorer. But Gonzales said he believes O’Rourke, whose campaign does not accept political action committee funding, is not beholden to corporate interests and will lift the lower and middle classes.

Gonzales criticized the use of federal funding to secure the border. In March, Congress allocated $1.6 billion in funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

“All that money needs to be put back into our local economy to help teachers get a pay raise and help state employees keep their incomes,” he said.

Chase Jacobson, a 2018 Churchill High School graduate, said he is hopeful O’Rourke’s campaign will help turn the political tide in a conservative state even if he does not win.

Jacobson said he and peers Sophia Mendez, a junior at Churchill, and Rachel Walsdorf, who recently graduated from John Jay High School, have been working to get the vote out as issues like gun laws, immigration, and health care have increasingly mobilized those in his generation.

O’Rourke, who said he has visited all 254 Texas counties during his campaign, still has a mountain to climb in deep-red Texas, where a Democrat has not won a statewide office since the early 1990s.

With nourishment from the beer at Burleson Yard Beer Garden, which houses the new field office, O’Rourke volunteers will use the central convening point to walk blocks, organize daily canvasses and phone banks, and keep the office staffed.

“San Antonio is just central to our prospects in Texas,” O’Rourke said, adding that the city portends demographically what Texas will look like in the future. “San Antonio’s really going to be a deciding factor in the outcome, so having a field office here is important.”

The O’Rourke campaign now has 33 field offices throughout the state, including in more traditional Republican strongholds such as Longview and Lubbock.

His campaign’s momentum and the grassroots fundraising, which has seen O’Rourke’s cash-on-hand mushroom to $14 million compared to Cruz’s $10.4 million, has spurred a tone of urgency in Cruz’s emails to supporters.

In a recent plea for donations, Cruz’s campaign said the news that O’Rourke had raised nearly $6 million more than Cruz in the second quarter was “very bad.”

“We can’t sit idly by and do nothing,” the email read. “We must close the gap. We’re being outraised by almost 3-to-1 and the polls are getting closer. We need to step up.”

O’Rourke said the $10.4 million he just raised – with an average donation of $33 – will help continue to support the campaign’s outreach.

“As [Bob] Dylan said, you do not need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows,” he said, speaking to supporters and volunteers at the opening party for the new field office. “You’ve got to knock on doors and ask the people that you want to serve what’s most important, what they care most about. It’s the only way we’re going to win. … It’s the only way this divided country is going to come together.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.