Two candidates that young people love show the future of both political parties
On the kind of night only the October chill off of Lake Michigan can spread toward Pontiac, Mich., John James, an African-American West Point grad and Iraq War veteran — who commanded Apache helicopters during the height of the conflict before heading home to expand his family’s supply-chain-logistics business — held a rally headlined by Kid Rock and Donald Trump Jr. to help galvanize Michigan voters to his conservative message in his run as a Republican for the US Senate.
On the same day nearly 2,000 miles away on Beaumont Avenue in McAllen, Texas, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) was doing his own form of politicking by live-streaming his wife and two staffers in his car pulling up to the J.L. Martinez Laundromat and filming for nearly two hours doing his laundry and talking to other customers who walked in to wash their own clothes.
James and Beto are each the up-and-coming rock star of their political parties. They are both young, energetic and espouse the tenets of their parties’ foundations.
James is earnest in his conservatism and deeply connected to his faith, practices fiscal discipline as a business owner and has served his country in war.
Beto is the stark contrast in age and style that Democrats have been looking for: He skateboards on the stage at his events; he live-streams every move he makes, giving his look a Hollywood edge, and he says all the right things national Democrats care about on climate change, sharing corporate wealth and the evils of Brett Kavanaugh.
O’Rourke is taking on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz; James is challenging Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow. But two big differences separate these underdogs.
O’Rourke seemingly only has to sneeze and he raises millions, $38 million to be exact in the past three months. For James it’s not quite as easy: Republican donors just aren’t giving this cycle, at least not the big dollars, although he did outraise Stabenow 2-to-1 in the last quarter.
The other big distinction is that one can win his state, the other will not.
Despite all of the charm and money and national anti-Trump tide in this country, Texas is likely at least two or more cycles from becoming purple enough to elect a progressive Democrat in a statewide race.
Michigan voters, on the other hand, have a habit of swinging back and forth. And James has the youth and conviction to persuade enough Democrats and independents to possibly pull out a surprise win in three weeks over Stabenow. With a little flow of cash and some borrowed time, he could be this year’s Larry Hogan — the Republican in a blue state no one was watching who got swept up in a wave in Maryland to win the governor’s office in 2014.
‘Both men are truly the future of their parties, they are aspirational and forward-looking. The only problem is Beto lives in a state that isn’t quite there yet to support a progressive Democrat, which gives him a harder path for a future in his state,” said Democratic strategist Mike Mikus, who noted he’s also impressed with the Texan’s massive war chest.
“Michigan is a state where James could conceivably win, if not now, at least at some point,” he added.
O’Rourke is trailing Cruz in the RealClearPolitics average by 7 percentage points while James is trailing Stabenow by 9 points. And while James may appear to have the longer shot, he’s cut her lead in half and momentum appears to be going his way. For Beto, it’s the opposite, as Cruz has begun to increase his lead.
Brian Cuban, like many of the O’Rourke faithful, isn’t giving up on Beto’s chances. The Dallas-based attorney and author — (whose brother Mark owns the Dallas NBA franchise) — spends much of his social media time supporting either the Mavericks or Beto, and his support for both is equally passionate.
“I’ve never been too involved politically in Texas elections, it’s always been more a sense of a predetermined destiny with who’s been running,” he says, venting the frustration of any blue voter who lives in a red state.
Cuban says he’s pragmatic enough to know that $38 million isn’t just coming from Texas, and says more about O’Rourke’s national appeal — but it is in Texas he has to win.
“It may not happen this round. I’m realistic about that. And if Beto does not get people out to vote who do not normally vote in these types of elections in record numbers, he’s not gonna win,” he says.
“The Beto story is being played so strongly because the media have made him the embodiment of the potential blue wave,” said Bruce Haynes, vice-chair of public affairs for Sard Verbinnen and former GOP strategist.
That is, Beto became the focus of media accounts of the hypothetical blue wave as a reaction to President Trump. Raising $38 million certainly gives you license to that narrative.
“On the other hand, there is no national narrative that surrounds James’ candidacy, as Republicans have looked at the Senate map for over a year, Michigan was never a place that they had a big red pin in as a potential pickup,” said Haynes.
They were much more focused on places like Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Florida and Indiana; redder states with arguably more vulnerable incumbents.
So the story on the Republican side has not been so much about the GOP candidates as it has been the vulnerability of the Democrats on the map.
James is a victim of those two narratives — the prevailing narratives in politics right now.
On the ground here in Michigan, though, the energy for James among young people is, of all of the races I have covered around the country, strikingly like the youth reaction to O’Rourke.
Morgan Garmo, a 21-year-old Albion College student, said James embodies not just the American dream, but our exceptionalism. The daughter of two Iraqi-Americans (one born in America, the other in Iraq), Garmo says she has split her vote in local elections since she first registered three years ago, but in James she found herself inspired not just to vote for him, but also to get involved.
And to persuade her extended family, which she says is split down the middle in partisan leanings, to vote for him as well, “I come from a Middle Eastern family where cousins are like siblings,” she said.
“I’ve also talked to a handful of people that are actually part of the College Democrats at Albion who’ve been wanting to learn more about John because his message resonates with so many young people.
“Our age group is very different than the older generation that’s currently in the US Senate, so having the opportunity to elect someone that kind of sees where we’re coming from, from a generational standpoint, but also has proven to just be a human that’s full of integrity and honor, it’s something that people are wanting to learn more about,” she said.
In James, Garmo sees the future not just for Republicans, but for her state and the country. In O’Rourke, Cuban sees the progressive he’s been waiting for in Texas. Both hold out hope their candidate will win, something neither may be able to pull off.
But certainly they have given everyone a peek at what the future of American politics looks like on both sides of the aisle.
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