Political pundits throughout the country are watching a Texas Senatorial race to help them gauge the tone of the mid-year 2018 and subsequent 2020 elections. The race between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke is shaping up to be the pivotal election for 2018.
As part of his self-proclaimed campaign promise to personally drive to all 254 counties in Texas, O’Rourke hosted a town hall meeting Saturday, Aug. 25, in Navasota, renting the hall at the VFW Post #4006.
“This (O’Rourke’s town hall) had nothing to do with the Democrat Party,” said local event organizer and Grimes County resident Ricke Weinkauf. “A lot of people don’t understand that the party has to be careful to stay separate from campaigning, funds come from different places for different reasons. The party is to represent the people, not the candidates, and to help build platform from local level to the state level.”
Weinkauf said the official sign-in attendance number was 450, but many accounts have the number higher, possibly exceeding the hall’s 500-person capacity.
“There were more than the 450 because there were still people in line when he started speaking and some who did not sign in,” said Weinkauf. “We had 250 chairs and they were all full and the standing room was full, there were even people spilling out of the doors.”
According to VFW Post #4006 Commander Carl Dry, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is not a political organization and the rental agreement with the O’Rourke campaign was part of the standard rental contract for any event.
“I do not normally attend rental events, but I attended Saturday to make sure things ran smoothly,” said Dry, who noted there were only two requests he could not allow at the VFW Post. “They wanted to open the doors (to the Flight Deck Lounge) and I couldn’t allow that and they wanted to take the flags down, I didn’t only say no, I said hell no, you don’t take the flags off the wall. I can’t believe any American would ask us to do that and I don’t know why he wanted them down or what he was going to put up instead.”
With so many people in attendance, there were people from all ideological backgrounds and political affiliation throughout the hall.
“I think people are ready for a different conversation and had heard the word being passed around that he was interesting and we had people come from other areas because people had missed their chance to hear him at other meetings,” said Weinkauf.
“Obviously, there were a lot of people there, 350 or plus, I definitely think well over 90 percent of them were from out of town, as I did not recognize many of them,” said Grimes County resident Dianna Westmoreland.
For the listeners of the Grimes County town hall the reactions were as varied as the people in attendance and seemed to align with each individual’s beliefs.
“Given today’s divisive political atmosphere, it was refreshing to hear from a candidate who is attempting to focus on the things that we, as Americans and Texans, have in common rather than our differences,” said Grimes County resident Jon C. Fultz. “Additionally, while Beto was clear about where he stands on various political issues, he indicated that he values the opinions of others regarding such issues, including those who may disagree with him.”
“It was nice to see a cross section of people being interested in what is going on, it has been my experience in Navasota that people don’t want to participate,” said Weinkauf. “He was passionate, spoke about issues that mattered to me and it was true excitement. He was supposed to speak for ten minutes with a ten-minute Q&A and his team had left without him because he wouldn’t stop talking — 20 minutes turned into almost two hours.”
“His philosophies are completely different than mine, because I am very conservative. I am glad I went to see him, he speaks well but I don’t agree with his words. He is very charismatic, a very good speaker, reminds me of Obama in many ways — he has a warm and fuzzy feeling about him,” said Westmoreland. “But I am opposed to his ideas, he danced around socialism because he is a socialist. He wants illegals to have free healthcare and that is socialism to me.”
Meet the Candidates
Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, who has been the U.S. Representative for El Paso since winning the election in 2012, is a fourth-generation Texan with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Columbia University. Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz, who has been the junior U.S. Senator for Texas since winning the election in 2013, was born in Canada and raised in Houston with degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School.
O’Rourke is married with three children. Cruz is married with two children.
Both candidates have been making news nationally, as their platforms are diametrically opposite on many issues, such as immigration, healthcare, gun rights and a bevy of others.