Meet Robert O’Rourke, the Irishman who holds the key to toppling Trump

A win for Irish Texan Beto O’Rourke in the US midterm elections could reorder politics in America and precipitate Trump’s downfall, says Joyce Fegan.

Meet Robert O’Rourke, the Irishman who holds the key to toppling Trump.

In the Deep South, right where Texas meets Mexico, there is a town called El Paso, and in it lives Irish Texan Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, 44. Tomorrow, Americans will go to the polls to vote in their midterm elections, the equivalent of an Irish general election.

Right now, Donald Trump’s Republican party has control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, but if voting goes the Democrats’ way on Tuesday, they could win back control of both houses and Trump’s power will finally be challenged.

Key to this challenge is father-of-three Beto O’Rourke, who is taking on Republican heavyweight Ted Cruz for the Texas seat in the Senate.

O’Rourke, whose family left Ireland in the late 1800s to work on the US railroads, is a Democrat hoping to turn the all-red state blue. But it’s a mighty ask, as there hasn’t been a Democratic senator here since 1988.

Cruz and O’Rourke’s race is the most-watched Senate contest in the US and if the Irish Texan wins, he will not only reorder politics in Texas, but in the whole of America.

He’s so popular with voters that he is likely to be the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nominee. So far he has raised $38m (€33m) in fundraising, the most money any candidate for Senate has ever raised.

On the ground in Texas, just how popular is he?

“Superman,” “saviour”, and “Kennedy-esque” are just some of the labels that have stuck to the tech-preneur and punk band guitarist.

“People really think he’s the saviour, that he’ll go to the Senate with a superman cape and fix everything. I’ve been working 12 to 14-hour days, seven days a week, that’s how much I love this candidate,” says a volunteer in one of his 50 satellite offices in Houston.

Houston is one of four major cities in Texas, and across the board the Irish Texan has several thousand volunteers.

This volunteer, who can’t be named due to her role in his campaign, gave up her teaching job to work for him full-time after hearing him speak live.

“I work as a public school teacher teaching English to students between 15 and 17 years of age.

“At the height of the debate around family separations, one of the students turned to me and asked: ‘What am I going to do if my parents get taken away?’ To look back at that student, with no answer to give them, was brutal.

I went to one of Beto’s townhall meetings on education and I was going in there to hold him accountable, but his speech addressed every single one of my questions before I had even asked them

“To hear Beto speak is to be inspired. I was so moved I decided to join up.

Listening to him speak is like listening to one of your favourite albums,” says the volunteer.

She’s working in a phone bank in west Houston where volunteers ring up voters, persuading them to give Beto their vote. The office is a law firm by day, but its owner gave up her premises to be a Beto campaign HQ by night.

Other locations include people’s garages, kitchen tables, and homes.

Irishman Chris Bohill, from Co Down, has a Beto placard in his front garden. While he likes Beto, he thinks the word “saviour” is going too far.

“A saviour is a step too far. He’s pragmatic. He’s normal. He’s sensible. He wants to work to help those less fortunate and bring them up. He has a strong message on women’s rights.

“With O’Rourke, women see him as someone who’ll give them a voice,” says Chris, who notes that in some neighbourhoods Beto’s canvassers are “exclusively female”.

“We have an app here called Next Door. It’s hyper local, so if there’s a dog loose in the neighbourhood, that goes up on it. A lot of women are using it to host Beto events in the houses. In some areas his canvassers have been exclusively female. He’s energised young women. He’s charismatic. He’s from the Kennedy mold. He’s not a bad looking fellow; he speaks really well. He has it all. He’s been to all 254 counties in the state and he’s going to all the small towns and working off small donations. He’s doing it the hard way, to the detriment of his personal life,” says Chris.

One way O’Rourke is engaging voters is on his daily run, where he invites people to jog alongside him and ask questions.

With the Irish in Houston, just like the women, he’s a big hit, simply because he’s a “pragmatist”.

Chris is a member of the Houston Gaelic Athletic Club, which has 200 members and fields men’s and ladies’ teams. Some of his clubmates feel the same about Beto, that he has “common sense”.

It’s not a radical platform that he’s running on. It’s very pragmatic. It’s not wildly left. For me and for some of the other Irish guys it’s common sense stuff and he’s socially aware too, wanting to lift up the worse-off Americans, that’s why I like him

explains Chris

Back at Beto’s Houston HQ there is a strong hope that he will take a Senate seat. He’s now trailing Cruz by just three points in the polls, having been behind by 18 last February.

For the volunteers this is a “life or death election” that O’Rourke is central to, because if he wins he will be instrumental to turning Trump’s tyrannical tide and holds the key to reordering American politics.

Will he win? Chris is moderately hopeful, but says it depends how far the Republicans go with their campaign of fear-mongering.

O’Rourke’s question to Americans is simple: For how much longer can they be governed by their fears?

More on this topic

Italy blocks Steve Bannon's plans for right-wing political academy

Former US president Jimmy Carter out of hospital after hip surgery

US to ratify ambassador to Ireland

Biden’s faults may not hinder him because of President Trump

More in this Section

Paschal Donohoe: Why I must budget for a disorderly Brexit

Trump is a threat to the planet, but so are the Democrats

Sisters, for the love of God — tell us where the Bessborough babies are

Swing to the right slowing? Hints of a change on the wind


Lifestyle

Hozier adds more believers to his church after Cork gig

Simply off the wall: Your go-to guide to shelving

Peter Dowdall shares his top 4 flower picks to add a splash of summer colour to your garden

Ask a counsellor: ‘Why does my husband hate that our daughter’s dating a man going through divorce?’

More From The Irish Examiner