By Elisabeth Thomas | Staff Writer
Crowds funneled into Mutualista Hall in South Waco last night to see Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, the democratic candidate running against Ted Cruz for senator.
“If you’re a Republican and you’re here tonight, you’re in the right place. If you’re a Democrat and you’re here tonight, you’re in the right place. If you’re an independent, a non-voter, if you’re gonna vote for Ted Cruz or vote for us, you’re in the right place,” O’Rourke said in his speech.
Prior to the event, Beto’s campaign account tweeted “Back in Waco. We were at Common Grounds on April 1, the day after we officially launched this campaign. Six visits later, we came together for a town hall at Mutualista Hall. Grateful to see familiar faces and to have the opportunity to meet many Texans for the first time.”
According to current polls, he is only about 6 points behind Ted Cruz. It appears that O’Rourke’s current success worries Cruz, as he recently released a TV advertisement against O’Rourke. Both are holding town halls across Texas, but O’Rourke has already been to all 254 counties.
O’Rourke is the Representative for District 16, which contains El Paso. Some would say he’s become a social media sensation, and he has supporters all over the country. He is funded completely by individual supporters, not political action committees or corporations.
His strategy, unlike Texas Democratic candidates in the past, is not to run as a moderate. Instead, he champions universal healthcare, Veterans Affairs and improved education. He sees improving these systems as more financially responsible for taxpayer’s dollars than the current alternative, which is mass imprisonment.
O’Rourke weaves Texas heritage and pride into his stances. Regarding gun control, he said that Texans need to lead the conversation.
“What if Texas with its unique heritage and traditions and history of gun ownership — responsible gun ownership — for hunting, self-defense, for sport or collection, were to use that pride of place to lead the conversation we have not had for the last six years,” O’Rourke said. “I have been here to make sure that there are universal background checks with no loopholes to make sure that those we love are protected.”
O’Rourke draws in everyone from traditional democrats to independents to Republicans who simply do not want to vote for Cruz.
“I’m not party-affiliated, neither are my parents,” said Josie Pooler, a Midway High School student. “I really like what he stands for — it’s really refreshing. I feel like it is time for positive change to start happening, especially now in the current political state. Discourse is really hard to have right now because the climate is so tense, and everything is very separated by party lines.”
Tony Podbielski considers himself moderate and is not a fan of Ted Cruz because he is funded by political action committees and has special interest. He came to hear what O’Rourke had to say and, for the most part, was on board with what he heard.
“Like Beto was saying, ‘By the people, for the people,’ and it’s obvious Ted Cruz isn’t. It just gets old,” Podbielski said.