Following recent polls showing Beto O’Rourke behind several other candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Dallas Morning News declared “the buzz attending O’Rourke… has faded. He has settled into a single-digit slump.”
A Washington Post columnist claimed “Pete Buttigieg stole Beto O’Rourke’s mojo.”
Really? On a Tuesday, maybe. Not in the long term.
News coverage of the horse race — who’s up and who’s down — and making declarative statements about what it means — have a shelf life of about five minutes. Any presidential primary, especially one with 18 candidates as campaign 2020 does, is fluid. Candidates will have good days and bad days. Polls will be all over the map.
“The ‘whose up this week/whose down this week’ is largely meaningless 10 months before voting starts,” Dr. Richard Murray, a veteran political scientist at the University of Houston, told us.
“In a huge and talented field like the Democrats have, what matters at this stage is having sufficient resources for a long slog and then being in a position in February/March to make the case to a pretty sophisticated electorate that I can beat Donald Trump.”
It’s unclear at this early stage which Democratic candidates can beat Trump. But electability is a higher priority on voters’ minds this time around.
O’Rourke, said Dr. Murray, is “a very good retail politician whose talent is very well suited to the early vote states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. And, like Senator Kamala Harris [of California], he can then immediately pivot to his home turf on March 3 and have a good chance to win a big state primary with lots of delegates. “
What some reporters might forget is that O’Rourke ran his Senate campaign in Texas. Sure, he developed a national profile in the process. But to compare his momentum in Texas last year to momentum in Iowa today is apples and oranges.
The moral of the story: be careful what you read (or see on cable TV). This is a marathon, not a sprint. Things change quicker than Donald Trump’s policy positions.