Texans in 2020 need to stand out to survive Democratic debate

o'rourke and castro

Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro (AP Photos)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The two Texas natives need to stand out on Wednesday’s Democratic Primary debate if they want voters to consider them as top-tier candidates. Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Former HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro hold steady in the middle of the group of twenty-four Presidential contenders.

After narrowly losing to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, O’Rourke launched on to the national scene with eye-popping fundraising numbers and a likable personality. Over the years, Castro has built a dedicated base of support as chief executive of one of the state’s largest cities. Except for a brief moment when O’Rourke announced he would run for President, both Texans have struggled to break into top spots in the Democratic primary race.

The first primary debate will be held on two consecutive nights, Wednesday and Thursday, beginning at 8 pm on KXAN News.

To clinch the nomination, the two Texans will have to overcome the polling, fundraising, and popularity of top-tier candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

According to pollsters at the University of Texas’s Texas Politics Project, O’Rourke has seen his spike in favorability numbers steadily decline since he entered the race; and Castro has struggled to stand out to voters, a large group of whom don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

“O’Rourke is clearly the better known among the two after last year’s highly publicized and extremely expensive Senate contest,” wrote Joshua Blank, from the Texas Politics Project, describing O’Rourke slight fall.

In October 2018, 77 percent of liberals held a favorable view of O’Rourke. “But a solid 15-point decline since October of 2018, and a 22-point decline in liberals who say that they have a “very favorable” impression of O’Rourke,” is a trend he’d hope to reverse, according to Blank.

“O’Rourke’s near-universal, positive coverage in 2018 has been replaced in 2019 with a more suspicious press, both asking reasonable questions about policy specifics that he largely escaped in 2018’s partisan contest, but also seemingly more interested in uncovering details of O’Rourke’s past that somehow didn’t come up in 2018,” wrote Blank.

For Castro, many Texans still don’t know who he is; 41 percent of Texans polled don’t know much about him.

“While Castro was viewed favorable by a majority of Democrats,” wrote Blank, “43 percent, likewise, could not offer a concrete opinion about him.”

Despite these factors, O’Rourke and Castro are both running ahead of the majority of the other – twenty-four – candidates in both money and overall polling. According to an analysis by the New York Times, O’Rourke’s polling numbers average around three percent; Castro’s average around one percent.

This first debate also comes at a crucial time, before the second quarter fundraising deadline, where candidates have to report how much money their campaign has raised from in April, May, and June. According to last quarter numbers, O’Rourke has raised $9.4 million, placing him near the top of the pack; Castro has raised around $1.3 million. Those numbers could spike if the candidates have a memorable night that allows them to break out of the pack.

The first democratic primary debates will be Wednesday and Thursday, followed by more in July, September, October, November, and December. The first votes in the 2020 election process will be held during the Iowa Caucus.

Many candidates hope to survive until Super Tuesday, where several large, diverse states hold their primary elections, including Texas and California. O’Rourke and Castro both hope to hold on until voters in their home state weigh in, possibly allowing them to hold on until the final throws of the primary.

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