AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — One Texan became a political sensation waging a longshot Senate campaign, then stormed into the presidential race with even more momentum, climbing in the polls, running up monster fundraising and dominating the national conversation. The other announced his 2020 bid earlier and to far less fanfare, then struggled for months to even stay relevant.
Both Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro will be in Austin on Friday night staging separate events within an hour — and a few blocks — of each other.
The events will unfold as Castro is the Texas presidential candidate on the rise — at least partially at the expense of O’Rourke, whose early buzz has fallen away.
Castro, a former Obama administration housing chief and mayor of San Antonio, has been buoyed by a well-received performance during Wednesday’s first night of Democratic debates in Miami, when he railed on O’Rourke for not backing his idea of decriminalizing the act of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
O’Rourke, a former congressman from the U.S.-Mexico border city of El Paso who sees immigration as an issue of strength, responded that doing so might shield drug- and human-smugglers from punishment. Looking for a breakout debate moment to catapult him back among the race’s leaders, O’Rourke instead saw Castro upstage him.
The fallout from that exchange has followed both men back to Austin.
Castro is holding a Texas Democratic Party fundraiser at one bar. At another, O’Rourke has a meet-and-greet with his supporters and is recalling the feel-good days of his Senate bid last year, when he nearly upset Republican Ted Cruz in the country’s largest red state.
“It’s my chance to thank everyone who’s made this campaign possible in the first place and to remind the rest of the country just how special Texas is, what you made possible in 2018,” O’Rourke said in an online video inviting supporters to attend. “Let’s make sure that we keep that same spirit alive right now.”
Spokesman Chris Evans said O’Rourke had an extra day on the schedule before a previously planned weekend trip to Houston and decided to hit Austin. He said it had nothing to do with Castro being there: “When scheduling a presidential campaign, we don’t look through what 23 other Democratic candidates are doing.”
Evans said he wouldn’t comment until the final numbers are ready, but O’Rourke’s campaign advisers are privately worried they’ll fail to meet key targets ahead of the end-of-quarter deadline Sunday. Supporters were hoping for a bump after the debate, but most observers agree O’Rourke failed to deliver a breakout moment.
In a role reversal of sorts, Castro finds himself on a post-debate upswing. Although his campaign didn’t disclose figures, it announced Friday that it had raised 3,266% more on Wednesday and Thursday than it had over the previous two days.
Texas could be a good place for O’Rourke to regain his campaign footing, though. He remains wildly popular here after nearly toppling Cruz, while Castro, and his twin brother, Joaquin, a Democratic congressman from San Antonio, disappointed some party faithful by forgoing longshot challenges last year to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who instead cruised to reelection against a little-known opponent.
Weissert reported from Washington.