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Beto O'Rourke did Arkansas on Saturday and Sunday.

He ran up to Conway on Saturday morning to drop in on a gun show. He surprised a young woman moving into a downtown Little Rock apartment by carrying a chair up the elevator ... and on video. He gave a chatty and informative interview to Roby Brock of Talk Business and Politics.

He spoke on the state Capitol steps to Moms Demand Action, the gun reform advocates. He spoke Saturday evening to the state Democratic Convention, and was, in the words of one man afterward, "right inspiring."

On Sunday he did Meet the Press from Little Rock, and then, on his way to Oklahoma in the afternoon, stopped off in Fayetteville to lead a rally of 400 or so students at the University of Arkansas.

The question arises: What the heck was that whirlwind all about?

On CNN early Sunday morning, an analyst scoffed at the notion that O'Rourke finally would ignite his dud of a Democratic presidential candidacy by going to Mississippi and Arkansas.

Those states don't have opening primaries. They're small. They're right-wing Republican.

They're--how shall I say?--generally considered two of the least significant states in the country.

It only so happened that O'Rourke was in Arkansas a few days after announcing that he was re-emerging from a campaign break--one caused by the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso--with a new focus. He would be the candidate who would show up anywhere and everywhere, run entirely against Donald Trump's divisiveness, rev up his already existing immigrant connection, embrace bold gun reform and talk to everyone, even those in resistant and outright hostile places.

His agreement to speak to the Arkansas Democratic State Convention in Little Rock on Saturday night pre-dated the El Paso tragedy. It was an engagement his candidacy was not the first to be offered. But he was the first high-profile candidate to have nowhere better to go.

The trip a couple of days before to Mississippi and the site of the immigration raid at the poultry plant--that was newly scheduled, and timely, and relevant to his new theme.

So it only appeared by these back-to-back backwater occasions that O'Rourke had overhauled his campaign as if to compete for fifth place in the SEC West.

This new-again Beto--the second reboot of a flailing campaign--will seek as its last gasp to forge its own new place in a Democratic field that squeezed him out.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris dominate the conventional path; Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders own the progressive path; and Pete Buttigieg lays claim to the thoughtful and new-wave generational path.

Conventional thinking leaves O'Rourke sharing only a weedy path with Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar that dead-ends at 2 percent.

But now comes Beto Part 3 to plow his own pioneer path. He will be the candidate with even an assault-weapon mandatory buyback plan, and the one most energetically unconventional, going not only to out-of-the way places like Arkansas, but, while there, venturing with his gun-reform plan into the belly of the beast at a gun show.

O'Rourke told chuckling Arkansas Democrats on Saturday night that the gun-show visit was "interesting."

He told Brock that a gun-seller told him he knew he shouldn't be allowed to sell guns at the show without a license and without a background check on buyers. He said another dealer who disagreed with him strongly offered him a good idea, which was to keep tabs on anyone who fails a background check, because they are likely to get a gun somehow.

O'Rourke is saying that's the kind of worthwhile dialogue that America needs, and which can only happen when you stake out your position strongly and then take your blue-jeaned self straight across the nation's great divide for direct dialogue.

It's more valuable dialogue than Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin's tweet that "Robert Francis O'Rourke" was in the state to confiscate guns and would find no audience because we are "2A" people, meaning Second Amendment.

But I think Arkansas could fill a few War Memorial Stadiums with people favoring background checks and unable to grasp the citizen need for military assault weapons.

Beto needs to get Harris and Buttigieg out of his way so that he can take aim at Biden on the traditional road via a generational path.

He needs to peel off a few Warren and Sanders voters from the progressive path.

Put all that together and suddenly he's in ... third place, behind Biden and Warren, but in the game.

It's probably not do-able, but it made for an eventful Saturday in Arkansas.

Is it all tactical or is it real? It's certainly tactical. Running for president is that for anyone.

Now it's up to Beto. He's got one last chance to make it real.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 08/20/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Beto's last chance to thrive

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