What Beto O’Rourke’s Dad Taught Him About Losing

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In 1998, in the closing days of the race for county judge here, Pat O’Rourke sensed a shift in the electorate. “I know we’re in the game,” he told the El Paso Times as he drew within 7 percentage points of the front-runner in the race for his old job.

“You can feel it on the street corners.” His son felt it, too, watching his father’s commanding performance in a debate that year. He was “so thoughtful and forthright,” Beto O’Rourke told me at his home on a recent July morning. “I just remember listening to him, just thinking, ‘God, this guy, it’s got to be obvious to anybody watching this that he should be county judge.’”

But in political campaigns—as Pat O’Rourke surely knew by then and his son is now acutely aware—there is often a disconnect between how a candidate feels a campaign should be going and how it is actually going.

Pat O’Rourke lost that race by nearly 17 points. At the time, he had been out of public office for more than a decade. He had abandoned the Democratic Party, lost a congressional race and, after publicly aligning himself with then-Gov. George W. Bush, was running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic swath of West Texas.

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