Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro were barely old enough for elementary school the last time a Democrat from ruby red Texas ran for the White House.
But with the midterm elections behind them, both Texans are signaling they could make a play for the presidency. It’s a reversal for a state where Democrats often seek big-money donors, not White House hopefuls — and it could fuel a rivalry between two of the party’s brightest Texas stars.
Democrats have desperately been searching for a candidate to pit against President Donald Trump, and after decades of disappointment, Texas Democrats are believe excited about the potential of sending two of their own to the national political stage.
The two men have taken different approaches to the White House buzz.
Castro, a secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, has taken a methodical approach. He’s paid visits to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and campaigned around the country for top Democrats ahead of the midterms.
O’Rourke, meanwhile, rocketed into the 2020 conversation almost overnight after coming within three percentage points of defeating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
He’s done little to build the groundwork for a presidential run and hasn’t contacted many top Texas donors. But his national profile is strong after raising more than $60 million for his Senate campaign — much of it from small donations — and coming close to unseating the popular Cruz.
“He’s in the top tier for sure. We saw Beto yard signs in Iowa. We have bumper stickers,” said Sean Bagniewski, chairman of Iowa’s Polk County Democratic Party, which recently invited O’Rourke and other top Democrats to visit the state.
O’Rourke said Monday that he prefers to finish his congressional term Jan. 3 before deciding what’s next. But that’s a far cry from repeatedly saying during the Senate campaign that he had no White House aspirations whatsoever.
There aren’t signs of animosity between the Texans — yet.
But O’Rourke has already eclipsed Castro’s national profile and, if he runs, may easily overshadow him. Castro insists he won’t be deterred by O’Rourke or other potential competitors, saying “I’m going to run regardless of what anyone else does.”
Intrastate clashes aside, a potential O’Rourke run could be especially challenging to Castro. Though the congressman is not Hispanic, he speaks fluent Spanish and champions his hometown of El Paso, on the Texas-Mexico border. Mustafa Tameez, a Houston strategist connected to top Democratic donors, said O’Rourke may trail Castro and other potential 2020 hopefuls in early preparations, but can catch up quickly.
“He created almost a million people that contributed to him,” Tameez said. “He can send out one email and raise more money than most established, seasoned veteran politicians and their bundlers.”
The last Texas Democrat to run for president was Lloyd Bentsen in 1978. Republican George W. Bush went from the governor’s mansion in Austin to the White House in 2000 and fellow Texans Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Cruz have all made presidential bids since.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.