Why these New York politicians are backing Beto

Beto O'Rourke delivering a speech.
Beto O’Rourke delivering a speech. | Diane Kirkendall/Shutterstock

Beto O’Rourke thinks he is born to run for president, and so far, it looks like two members of New York’s congressional delegation agree. U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Kathleen Rice both endorsed the former Texas congressman O’Rourke the same day he announced he was throwing his hat in the ring to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. In doing so, Maloney and Rice became the first members of New York’s congressional delegation to endorse any of the politicians currently vying for the Democratic nomination. Notably, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who actually represents New York, has not received any endorsements from the state’s congressional delegation.

What made Rice and Maloney so eager to endorse? It wasn’t O’Rourke’s superior qualifications or favors he banked. It may have been their personal relationship with him and, perhaps, a desire to signal their moderation and youthfulness – or that choosing a presidential candidate with those qualities is the right direction for their party.

O’Rourke, 46, represented El Paso in Congress for three terms. During his energetic challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and he gained national popularity through his viral stump speeches, Kennedy-esque looks and cool biography. But while O’Rourke ran a close race against Cruz – coming within three points of the veteran senator – he’s joining a crowded field of Democrats eyeing the White House, many of whom carry progressive credentials or who would diversify the pantheon of presidents more than another white Christian man would. In contrast, O’Rourke’s record in Congress and on the El Paso City Council is that of a moderate who often has sided with Republican-aligned business interests.

That, Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory says, is why moderates Rice and Maloney are backing him. “They’re playing the endorsement game as if it’s Gretzky’s approach to hockey, which is that you play it where you think the puck is going to be, not where it is now,” Gyory said. “I think they probably see Beto O’Rourke being able to build bridges across generational and ideological lines that they think will be helpful to Democrats in swing areas like theirs, as well as the base.”

Having only announced his candidacy on Thursday, O’Rourke has already racked up four endorsements from members of the House of Representatives, including Rice and Maloney. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who ran in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2016, also endorsed him. Despite O’Rourke’s popularity, however, he has not established any key policy issues or…

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