PaperCity Magazine

October 2018- Dallas

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Page 45 of 111

36 O ne Monday afternoon in late summer — after a volley of emails with Beto O'Rourke's media handlers — our team found itself at an O'Rourke town hall at fine-arts magnet Westbury High School in Houston. A tight 20 minutes for our Q&A and portrait sitting had been negotiated for our story, then reduced to a mere 10 minutes that day. Westbury High School stood out like a beacon, its gleaming new wing the site of the O'Rourke town hall and our interview. A flurry of cars arrived. Supporters, some with signage and patriotically dressed, rushed inside. I checked my watch. Forty-five minutes to go. The Westbury marching band, crisply uniformed and lined up along the sidewalk at attention, created a sense of ceremony, awaiting the arrival of the candidate. Inside, volunteers manned sign-up sheets, dispensed buttons and yard signs, and directed the crowd to the school's newly opened cafeteria. First order was to find the press officer in charge, who confirmed — no surprise — that O'Rourke would be slightly late, but was en route. The press team led us down a hallway to a teacher's office, a quiet spot for our interview; we staked out a place to take the photos, then waited. Fifteen minutes passed in the classroom, then it was clear O'Rourke was in the house. The crowd noise was overwhelming. We hurried to the entrance in time to see the senatorial hopeful disappear into the cafeteria, where he greeted a crowd of nearly 2,000, aligned in chairs and into overflow bleacher-style seating. I squeezed into a space, not wanting to miss the town hall. O'Rourke's on-site director assured us we would get our portrait and 10 minutes, but we had to be prepared to take advantage of the tight window of time after the town hall and before his meet-and-greet. R obert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke has captured the attention of pundits, press, and the people for disrupting the status quo. The telegenic candidate, a three-term Democratic Congressman from El Paso, is adamant about not accepting any bucks from political-action committees. Still, the fund-raising for his U.S. Senatorial campaign has shattered records: In the second quarter, the campaign made a $10.4 million haul, secured mostly from individual voters (via modest amounts averaging $33 per donor). Red versus blue labels are sharply ignored. Pollsters aren't hired. And O'Rourke has taken his message directly to every county in Texas — 254 in number, via town halls and less formal meet-and-greets. He fearlessly goes deep into red rural counties, in places where the populace has never laid eyes upon a senatorial candidate from either party in its lifetime. As midterms approach, during a time that everyone can agree is intensely contentious, it's no longer business as usual in the quest for one of the most influential posts in American government. By way of O'Rourke, the country has seen a new definition of a campaign — one where the candidate is candid, unscripted (in disarming Facebook Live posts from his 34-day Texas-wide road trip), and thoughtfully outspoken. When asked during another recent veteran-filled town hall in Houston about his stance on NFL players' right to take a knee during the National Anthem, O'Rourke's of-the-moment response went viral. He linked the gesture to peaceful protest, with references to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Selma, Alabama, and the Freedom Riders. To date, 44 million people have watched his response on YouTube. One might not concur with his view, but it was not pat political rhetoric. O'Rourke has been compared to a Kennedy, drawing rapturous crowds and securing A-list appearances — from Ellen DeGeneres, Town & Country, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and U.K.-based daily The Guardian. Not bad for an underdog on the political map, whose credentials include Columbia grad; web development company founder; father of three; and son of a furniture store owner and a county judge. He was living a relatively low-profile life in El Paso until his successful run for Congress in 2012. As example of his newfound celebrity, fellow Congressman and friend Joe Kennedy III — for whom O'Rourke has been mistaken — traveled to Texas this spring, where he was spotted driving O'Rourke around on whistle stops (a scene captured on the candidate's Facebook feed). The duo even bantered about their both being on the ticket come 2020. I stood in the back and craned to see the man of the hour. O'Rourke's voice carried forcefully. My sight lines were blocked, but the tall, slim man darting back and forth at the front of the room made an impact. He spoke without notes, relaying stories in paragraphs instead of sound bites about the concerns of those he had met and witnessed. A story of a recent visit to the HISD STEM magnet Kashmere FACTOR TheBETO BY CATHERINE D. ANSPON. PRODUCED BY MICHELLE AVIÑA. PORTRAIT ANDREW OKANO. A U.S. Senatorial candidate from Texas has become a phenomenon in the political landscape, taking on a lightning-rod opponent — former presidential candidate and incumbent Texas Senator Ted Cruz — in one of the closest, most intensely watched congressional races of the mid-term elections. Could this boyish man from El Paso be the future of Texas? Of America? We had six minutes and 25 seconds to find out, which Beto O'Rourke's handlers carved out of his back-breaking schedule. (continued on page 38)

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