Texas Labor: Thank You, Beto O'Rourke

Physicists will tell you time travel - at least the variety that is popular in science fiction - is a physical impossibility. Time-jumps in politics, however, may be a different story.

Win or lose, labor-backed U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke has created a time-jump in Texas politics. He has rewritten the ignominious 2014 election script and has delivered, in 2018, genuine election prospects stoked by data on the ground.

 In 2014, Texas continued an era of statewide Republican electoral dominance in which the main GOP strategy was to ignore the opposition, bombard us with fog-filled ads that have little to do with actual records or real goals, and thrive on low voter turnout.

In 2018, O'Rourke has made us forget about the pundits by setting a new standard for all future statewide candidates.

Visiting all 254 counties and circling back to many of them for the last several months was not a stunt. O'Rourke put his shoe leather (and tire treads) into demonstrating day after day that winning statewide is not only about getting large turnout in progressive strongholds but cutting margins in portions of the state that had been written off as unwinnable.

Rejecting PAC money, a tactic that drew skepticism from many, turned out to be good politics and good fundraising. Through small contributions from tens of thousands of people, O'Rourke has out-raised an incumbent U.S. Senator in a state that much of the Democratic Party apparatus outside Texas had ignored. Even better, the record-setting fundraising, which has allowed O'Rourke to saturate TV and social media, was not an essential feature. Anyone in the state could see O'Rourke for themselves if they chose. He made headway in turning a new generation of voters onto politics and, we hope, the voting booth.

So far as working families are concerned, O'Rourke has never sacrificed his authenticity while running against one of the most right-wing politicians ever to hold major office in Texas. Instead of occupying more space in the great gap between his beliefs and those of incumbent Ted Cruz, O'Rourke has run an unabashed #FairShot campaign that includes health care for all as a central feature. Working families have responded and are turning out at the polls.

As early voting ends later today, O'Rourke is in position to score an upset in a state where the odds against him might have started at the 1,000 to 1 mark. And he has done much more: It is possible that any number of down-ballot candidates will prevail because of O'Rourke's campaign. 

In the environment O'Rourke has helped create, the Grand Canyon that existed in 2014 is no more. But that last baleful bit of Deadeye Gulch remains. If we have turned out x percentage more labor voters, we may need x+3 to win key races. If the state is headed toward breaking a 50 percent turnout in an election that got more like 33 percent last time, we may need closer to 60 percent to finish the job. Turnout on Tuesday will tell the tale. Has the early vote, once again, taken three-quarters or four-fifths of the vote? Or are enough votes out there? O'Rourke, other statewide candidates and your favorite local candidates need that extra shot of unprecedented work to get there. 

The Texas AFL-CIO officers and staff and our affiliates from all over the state have done everything in our power to turn out the early vote. We will continue through Tuesday and ask you to do so as well. We believe labor activists are voting in large numbers. The lagniappe arrives on Tuesday, Nov. 6. If Election Day turnout snags a decent percentage of what is left, the prizes in sight are truly out-of-time and we will have jump-started a new political era in this state.

I'm typically pie-eyed about elections. This time, maybe I'm silver dollar-eyed, smelling and tasting progress with an understanding of the hill we must climb. Beto O'Rourke and other outstanding labor-backed candidates have improved prospects for working families Tuesday and beyond. The labor movement has never given up, even in the worst of political times, but O'Rourke has made 2018 into our most urgent turnout mission in generations.