The race for Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) Senate seat has won occasional national attention as polls have shown an increasingly close competition between the right-wing lawmaker and progressive challenger Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas)—but a viral video of O'Rourke speaking passionately about civil disobedience, police violence, and racial justice has put the national spootlight on the Democrat.
The three-term congressman and former El Paso City Council member was asked earlier this month by a voter in Houston how he viewed protests by NFL players who have chosen to take a knee during the national anthem, in recognition of numerous police shootings of unarmed black Americans and other systemic racial injustice.
While expressing understanding for the person who asked the question, who clearly stated his belief that the players are being disrespectful, O'Rourke objected to the notion that football players have been protesting the American flag, the anthem, or the military, and spoke out forcefully in favor of the athletes' right to demonstrate, likening their actions to those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights icons.
"Non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it," O'Rourke said. "That is why they are doing it. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, any time, anywhere, in any place."
‘I can think of nothing more American.’ — Beto O'Rourke — the man taking on Ted Cruz — brilliantly explains why NFL players kneeling during the anthem is not disrespectful pic.twitter.com/bEqOAYpxEL
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 21, 2018
When announcing his candidacy to retain his seat, Cruz gloated that O'Rourke didn't stand a chance in the state, releasing a musical ad featuring the lyrics, "If you're gonna run in Texas, you can't be a liberal man," and invoking the image of Texas as a purely red state.
But recent polls have shown the two candidates neck-and-neck, with Cruz leading by just two points in a Texas Lyceum survey, five points according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, and six points in a Quinnipiac poll.
On social media, responses to O'Rourke's comments also demonstrated that his defense of the protests—along with his refusal to take corporate and PAC donations, support for stronger gun control laws, and demands for the passage of the DREAM Act and an end to the "militarization of our immigration enforcement system"—has resonated with many of the state's voters.
— BlueTexan (@lkjtexas) August 22, 2018
— Jane P (@jpear02) August 22, 2018
Beto O’Rourke!!! I can see our future President in this man. God I hope he defeats Ted Cruz. As a Texan, I’m proud of him and his values, not taking PAC money and promising to work for us. God bless you Beto.
— genERIC trademark (@_IM_supreME_) August 22, 2018