Can Democrats replicate Beto O’Rourke’s success in 2018?

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign might have been short-lived, but his close finish in the 2018 Senate race against Ted Cruz showed what a strong Democratic campaign could look like in a longtime Republican state.

Can Democrats replicate that momentum in Texas in 2020? Or in other states that have Senate seats up for grabs? Let’s take a look at a few of the races and how they are working to build support on the ground. 


Thanks to the growth of cities like Denver and Boulder, Colorado has quickly turned from red to purple over the past few years. That change has fueled Democratic Senator Michael Bennett and Governor John Hickenlooper — both of whom joined O’Rourke in the early stages of the 2020 presidential race. 

Now, that momentum appears to be extending to the Senate seat up for re-election this November. The seat is currently held by Republican Cory Gardener, whose approval ratings among the state’s voters dropped to 37 percent in early February.

Gardner’s low approval rating and a strong slate of Democratic opponents prompted election forecaster Larry Sabato to change his prediction for the Senate race from “tossup” to “leans Democratic” in early February. 

Gardner has been one of President Trump’s strongest defenders in the Senate, a move that has played well with Trump’s base but might be costing him support from more moderate voters. 

Voters will choose his Democratic opponent in a primary on March 3. Contenders include Hickenlooper, who announced his Senate run shortly after dropping out of the presidential race.

Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016, and Democrats retained the governorship in 2018. Plus, the state has led the way in passing progressive-leaning ballot measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

North Carolina

There’s perhaps no state more indicative of our current political moment than North Carolina. The state was solidly Democratic through the 1970s, then became reliably Republican from 1980 through 2016. 

Heading into November’s elections, the number of Republican and Democratic voters in the state is closer to 50-50 than ever, which has implications for the seat currently held by Republican Thom Tillis. 

In 2014, Tillis defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan by less than 2 percent of the vote. While in office, nearly 95 percent of his votes have aligned with President Trump.

Perhaps most notably, Tillis was one of 22 Senators who encouraged President Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. He’s also rated an “A+” candidate by the NRA. 

Similar to Colorado, the question in North Carolina is whether there are enough left-leaning voters and independents in cities like Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, and Asheville to overtake conservatives in more rural parts of the state. 

Moderate Democratic Cal Cunningham won a primary election March 3, garnering 57% of the vote. Cunningham faced a challenge from Erica Smith, a more progressive state Senator who has received some unlikely support from a Republican Super PAC

A win in North Carolina is widely seen as being essential to Democrats regaining control of the Senate in 2020.


The story in Arizona is a little more complicated than it is in Colorado and North Carolina, particularly when it comes to the Senate. Thanks to a unique series of events, the state has one of its Senate seats up for grabs in a special election.

The seat was formerly held by GOP Sen. John McCain, who passed away in August 2018.  Arizona Governor Doug Ducey appointed former Senator John Kyl to fill the seat, but Kyl stepped down at the end of 2018. Ducey then chose McSally, who ran for Senate in 2018 but narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

According to polling released in January, Kelly currently holds a slight lead over McSally — though more than 10 percent of voters reported being unsure of who they would choose.

Like North Carolina and Texas, Arizona is riding a wave of more progressive voters flocking to the “sun belt” states. The state has also shown a history of supporting moderate candidates, as evidenced by McCain’s long run in the Senate.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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