Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) quickly racked up endorsements from a number of younger lawmakers on Thursday — a group that hints at the generational and ideological divides that will likely fuel the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Within hours of announcing his presidential campaign, O’Rourke landed endorsements from Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Veronica Escobar (D-TX) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY).
All four are on the younger side, and represent the coalition O’Rourke will need if he’s going to win the nomination.
Murphy, Rice and Maloney are prominent moderate Democrats. All four are members of Generation X who are younger than the average member of Congress. Escobar, who just won O’Rourke’s old seat in Congress, is Hispanic — a group he’ll need to do well with if he hopes to win the nomination. Maloney is gay; the others are women. Rice also represents a group of Democrats agitating for generational change — she was one of the few Democratic lawmakers who held out and opposed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) taking back the gavel.
Murphy’s endorsement is especially notable. The 40-year-old second-term lawmaker is the first Vietnamese American woman in Congress, holds a swing suburban district in a key battleground state, and is a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats.
She told TPM she’d been “anxiously awaiting” his announcement.
“Our party will benefit from his ideas, his energy, and most importantly his pragmatism. He just brings a fresh perspective to old problems, and more importantly, he listens,” she said. “
That “energy” and “fresh perspective” may set O’Rourke up favorably against the Democrats currently leading the primary polls, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). And his relatively moderate profile as a former member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition could help him win over the type of suburban moderate voters, many of them female, who propelled Democrats to winning House control in 2018.
More O’Rourke endorsements from younger and more moderate Democratic lawmakers may be in the offing. A few fresh-faced centrists have privately told TPM they think highly of O’Rourke in recent weeks. That could set up a generational contrast, with younger House lawmakers flocking to their former colleague Beto and older and more moderate Senate Democrats embracing Biden.
O’Rourke’s most likely path to victory is if Biden collapses under scrutiny and he emerges as the favorite of more moderate voters, while holding onto the devoted following of young supporters he drew during in his close loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). In that race, he drew massive and adoring crowds and raised record-setting sums for a Senate race.
Murphy said when she came in to stump for O’Rourke last fall, “I felt I was an opening act for a political rockstar — I gave my remarks, and the moment the crowd saw him you could feel the energy shift in the room.”
There are a number of other compelling younger candidates in the race, including ones who may be able to make inroads with suburban, female and moderate voters like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). And left-wing activists were quick to start hammering him for a lack of policy depth and a handful of more moderate votes.
But if O’Rourke can develop a coalition that looks like his quartet of early endorsers and siphon support from Biden, he could make a lot of noise in the primary.
This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. following Maloney’s public endorsement.