Drew Anthony Smith/ Getty Images

Who Is Beto O'Rourke? Ted Cruz's Texas Senate Opponent Is Coming For Young Voters

Ad failed to load

It's a full day after Ted Cruz lit up the internet for allegedly liking a hardcore porn account's tweet on Sept. 12, and I'm on the phone with his 2018 Texas Senate opponent, Beto O'Rourke. So, of course, I bring it up. Cruz is known for his "evangelical voting conscience," which, in Texas, is the short-form slang for a few key issues.

Cruz is anti-health care access, anti-choice for women, and has an unwavering passion for gun rights that was initially supported by the NRA on the senate level, but faded quickly once the organization backed Trump's 2016 presidential ticket instead. (Cruz still walked away with $36,000 in donations from the NRA in 2016, and was a key speaker at a 2017 NRA event.) In reference to the issue at hand — the tweet — I should point out that Cruz once pulled a campaign ad he filmed after discovering one of the actors had appeared in softcore porn years earlier.

But O'Rourke, unsurprisingly, isn't fazed by the Cruz headlines. In fact, he's not even paying attention. Over the phone for an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, he tells me, in reference to the tweet, "Yesterday was our first day back in DC and we're -- as you can imagine -- doing our best to try and make sure we're responding to those who have been hurt by [Hurricane] Harvey and now [Hurricane] Irma in Florida. I just have not had a lot of time to get online and to see that." He adds, "But I don't take any joy out of anyone else's misfortune."

Ad failed to load

And that was that on Ted Cruz.

Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

It's hard, however, to talk about O'Rourke without bringing up his political opponent. After all, Cruz has been leading the Texas Senate since his election in 2012, and the Texas senator was a major talking point in the 2016 presidential election, though he ultimately lost the Republican primary to now-President Donald Trump. Cruz is also notably disliked within his own party. Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott once called out the way Cruz handled himself on the Senate floor for calling Mitch McConnell a liar,  and former President George W. Bush once said, "I just don't like the guy." O'Rourke stands in opposition to just about every one of Cruz's political beliefs. For starters, O'Rourke is pro-choice, supports equal access to healthcare, and is looking to legalize marijuana.

Ad failed to load

O'Rourke is also gaining notoriety, and not just due to his contrasting political POVs. Before he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, O'Rourke was a businessman in El Paso, Texas. However, before that, O'Rourke was a punk rocker. In fact, there are still grainy videos of O'Rourke and his band, Foss, floating around YouTube, and one of Foss' ex-members (Cedric Bixler-Zavala) even went on to join the bands Mars Volta and At the Drive-In. O'Rourke was on bass and vocals, and in true punk-rock, Kurt-Cobain fashion, even shows up in what appears to be a floral dress on the band's album cover.

Somewhere in Texas, you can practically hear Cruz's shuddering in his pantsuit.

Western Breed Records
Ad failed to load

Looking back, O'Rourke's band days may have served as his first foray into politics, long before even he realized it. He says being around others in the music scene who were putting out their own music, booking their own tours, and publishing their own zines had a huge influence on him. "It just demonstrated the power that we all have when we just decide to take matters into our own hands [and not] wait for someone else to do it," he says. 

O'Rourke is looking to that same "power of the people" mindset to help fund his campaign for Senate. He's been vocal about his refusal to accept Political Action Committee (PAC) money, which, he says boils down to the fact that "special interests don't have a home" in his campaign. In fact, he's so against PAC involvement in campaigns that O'Rourke even introduced the No PAC Act into congress.

PAC money isn't exactly Texas' biggest problem. Although a Democrat hasn't been elected to the Texas Senate since 1994, Republicans aren't exactly the problem, either. "Texas isn't a red state or a blue state, it's a non-voting state," O'Rourke tells me. He points to gerrymandering — representatives having the power to draw literal re-zoning lines, which gives them the power to choose their voters and not the other way around — as the cause. This means that those congressmen and women only have to appeal to their voters; hence, little change actually gets made. "If you don't feel like your vote is going to count and you feel like the system is rigged, why would you waste your time voting?" 

Ad failed to load
Jon Snow - The Viral Network on YouTube

Texas was number five on Huffpo's 2016 list of top 10 states with the lowest voter turnout. According to O'Rourke, "the way the system works right now is, literally, members of Congress choose their voters instead of the other way around, so I think young people get that that's not the way it's supposed to work."

Although gerrymandering has been going on for years, it only recently gained attention as a constitutional problem. The Supreme Court is set to hear a case on the issue in October with Gill v. Whitford, involving alleged unconstitutional redistricting in Wisconsin from 2011. With mostly Democrats backing the case and a few Republicans (John McCain, to be exact) lending their support, ending the issue could be closer than we think. But O'Rourke doesn't have time to kill waiting.

Ad failed to load

Gerrymandering is one of the biggest issues he sees in Texas that he quite literally can't sit with. If Texas is a "non-voting state," as he calls it, then it's doomed to repeat a cycle of electing representatives who just don't listen to the needs of their peers. It's what motivated his run and decision to reject PAC money in the first place. He wants voters to be involved in the democratic process again.

Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

Of course, now we're all wondering the same thing: Does O'Rourke have a shot at unseating Cruz? As we saw with the November 2016 presidential election, elections are hard to pinpoint. But as we also saw as a result of the 2016 election, people are starting to take more notice at what's going on. They are the people O'Rourke wants to talk to.

Ad failed to load

O'Rourke first began his fight for the Senate in mid-2017, a full year ahead of the November 2018 elections. Instead of running a campaign centered on calling out Cruz's "flaws," O'Rourke is focusing on what matters: Texans. By the time we talk on the phone about his campaign, he's just recently finished a 34-day tour across Texas, where he visited small towns and met with supporters and critics alike. When Hurricane Harvey hit, he headed to Houston. "We're going to the places where people often feel like perhaps they are forgotten or their voices aren't being heard," O'Rourke says.

In his first quarter as a candidate alone, O'Rourke has already raised $2.1 million, a startling figure, especially when compared to Cruz, who has only raised $1.6 million. Another jaw dropping number? Cruz kicked off the Senate race with $5.7 million available for campaign expenses. O'Rourke, however, started with a modest $1.9 million.

Recent polls show close numbers between Cruz and O'Rourke. An April 2017 poll completed by Lyceum of 897 people throughout Texas listed O'Rourke's approval at 30 percent -- identical to Cruz's. Speaking with such a small sampling of Texans (a state that boasts 15 million eligible voters), it's hard to say exactly who voters are backing, but such strong numbers could bode well for O'Rourke in the future.

Ad failed to load
Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

But if the first year of O'Rourke's campaign is any indication of what's to come, it's safe to say more recognition of the liberal from Texas will only pick up from here. He cites young people, especially those just graduating high school or beginning their careers, as some of the toughest Texans he's encountered so far. He mentions that Trump's refusal to legitimately address growing concerns about climate change and his insistence on reversing Obama-era protections on net neutrality are at the forefront of young people's minds, and O'Rourke is not just taking notes -- he's listening.

"It's been incredibly encouraging to see [young people's] interest," he says. "It gives me some very strong cause for optimism going forward."

Ad failed to load

If the most unsettling aspect of the political landscape in Texas isn't concern over whether it's "red" or "blue," but more the fact that it's silent, then O'Rourke's biggest challenge now is to make some noise. As someone who once thrashed in a punk band on local TV, the challenge, it seems, is one he's already accepted.

Ad failed to load

Must Reads

Cherry Print Is One Of Summer's Biggest Fashion Trends & It's So Much Sweeter Than Florals

If there's one thing that I've had my eye on this summer it's a cool, flirty cherry-print dress. Along with versatile black tops and blue denim, the color red has become a staple in my wardrobe this year and anytime I can infuse it into my daily look…
By Ariana Marsh

Your Weekly Horoscope Is Here & Your World Is About To Be Filled With Sunshine

If you've had enough of the sleepy and heavy feeling associated with Taurus season, prepare yourself for a replenishing rush of fresh energy. As of May 20, the sun has officially moved into Gemini, and the weight on your shoulders will finally start …
By Roya Backlund

13 Must-Have Experiences You Should Buy In Your 20s, Instead Of A New Couch

Life is one big experience. When you hit your 20s, though, you start getting pulled in the direction of your responsibilities. It isn't totally a bad thing, but you don't want to get so wrapped into adulting that you forget life's zest. Amazing exper…
By Jasmine Vaughn-Hall

I Tried Kim Kardashian's Weird Beauty Obsession & I Can't Stop Taking Selfies

You've been there before: You're scrolling through your Instagram feed when you see your favorite celeb post about their favorite new product — a face serum, vitamins that will make your skin brighter, or a specialty food service. You can't help but …
By Stephanie Montes

Where You Should Vacation This Summer, According To Your Zodiac Sign

Summer is so much more than just sweating in 90 degree weather and enjoying a long, lazy break from school (if you're lucky enough to still be in school). It's a time for making exciting new plans, falling madly and hopelessly in love, opening your m…
By Roya Backlund

Wander or Bust: The Amalfi Coast May Just Be The Most Beautiful Thing You'll Ever See

Wander or Bust is an Elite Daily travel series that follows young women all over the globe to record their journeys as they experience the thrill of the far-flung and unknown. They'll track their budgets, where they stay, where they eat and drink, a…
By Kaylin Pound

6 Brutally Honest Phases Of Life After A Breakup, Because You Will Survive 

If you've ever been through a bad breakup, you know that the struggle is real. For the weeks (or possibly months, if it was a really bad one) that follow, life can be rough, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Don't believe me? Just l…
By Rachel Shatto

Here's How You Can Find Out What Your Aura Color Is

Do you remember that movie Almost Famous? More specifically, the scene where William is trying to have a phone call with his mom, but a clairvoyant Band-Aid keeps shouting "Your aura is purple!" in his face? Well, that was the first time I had ever h…
By Roya Backlund

9 Women In Their 20s Reflect On The Advice They Wish They Had At Graduation

Graduating college can feel seriously scary. You've spent your entire life in school, working and preparing for the moment you enter the real world, but what happens when you get there? What if things don't go totally according to plan? You may have …
By Brittney Morgan

3 Early Signs You Are Going To Have Undeniable Chemistry With Your Crush

I don't know if there's anything better than the excitement of having a new crush — especially when that feeling's reciprocated. The butterflies that rush through your stomach as soon as they enter a room. The electricity that zips through your veins…
By Genevieve Wheeler

Emoji Pool Floats Are Here To Match Every Mood You’re In This Summer

Searching for the perfect poolside accessory to lounge around in this summer? This year’s hottest warm weather water trend isn’t a big floppy hat or designer sunglasses — it’s an emoji pool float. That’s right: Your favorite little digital expression…
By Rachel Murphy

Here's How Your Mood & Your Favorite Music Are Secretly Connected, According To Science

If you're someone who's likely to be found with ear buds in her ears at all times, you might not realize just how often you listen to music, or the ways in which it's really affecting you. From your morning commute to the tunes you blast while you co…
By Caroline Burke

This Is How Long It Takes For A Partner To Really Trust You, According To Experts

Trust is easily one of the most important parts of a healthy relationship, but typically, it's not something that's fully there from the start because it takes some time to build. How long it takes for a partner to trust you is a question that doesn'…
By Tayi Sanusi

7 Things You Forgot To Thank Your High School Friends For & Should ASAP

Friends are a dime a dozen, but a solid, genuine group of girlfriends can be difficult to come by. When you find your tribe, you need to stick with them until the end. For some lucky people, your high school friends have been your besties since day o…
By Rachel Chapman

These 3 Zodiac Signs Will Have The Best Week, So Bask In The Glory

It's officially the second week of May, and the warmth of spring has finally arrived. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and the bright weather is allowing everyone to finally break out their favorite pair of shorts. If you think the gorgeou…
By Roya Backlund

7 Men Reveal What Attracted Them To Their Last Crush & They'll Make You Swoon

He reminded me of Nate Archibald from Gossip Girl. That's legitimately what I found appealing about my most recent crush. Sorry, but it doesn't get any deeper than that. In other instances though, when I'm not trying to live out my lustful, adolescen…
By Sydnee Lyons

A Relationship Expert Reveals His Long-Distance Relationship Survival Guide

"Long-distance relationships are extremely relaxing and easy to navigate," said no one in a long-distance relationship ever. Whether you are bicoastal babes or a quick two-hour train ride apart, distance makes the heart grow fonder, but it also makes…
By Kimmy Foskett

How To Start Reading Tarot When You Have No Clue Where To Begin

I've been practicing tarot almost daily as part of my self-care routine for years. My favorite part of the day is putting on a face mask, pouring myself a blushing mimosa or some coffee, busting out a few crystals, and sitting down to spend a little …
By Minerva Siegel

7 Questions You Should Be Able To Answer About Your Life By The Time You Hit 30

Nobody has all of the answers in life, but you're probably pretty proud of yourself for how far you've come. Somewhere along the way, some of us got the hang of adulting and began to appreciate the unexpected things that come with being 20-something.…
By Marisa Casciano