In the days leading up to Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, a top Republican opposition research firm was brimming with requests from political reporters angling for dirt.
America Rising, a political action committee that shared details of its internal inquiries with The Daily Beast, said the asks came from a dozen or more reporters and ranged from broad questions to more tailored points of interest.
But 10 weeks after O’Rourke’s official launch, those requests are virtually nonexistent.
“The requests for oppo on him have completely died off,” a staffer at the oppo group said.
The lack of oppo requests suggests a larger problem looming over O’Rourke’s campaign: a visible decline in public interest. Once elevated to the top of Democratic watch-lists, the former congressman is now registering in single digits in several national polls, nosediving from 12 percent in a Quinnipiac poll conducted in March to just 5 percent in the same survey in April.
And while he’s beginning to roll out new hires in key voting states, some say he’s already fallen behind other candidates whose field operations have been interfacing with voters for months.
America Rising, which has cornered the market on opposition research on the nearly two dozen presidential contenders, has tracked what it considers a steady decline in the public’s interest in O’Rourke.
The Republican National Committee, known for slinging insults about Democrats into mainstream consciousness, has not received any requests from reporters for O’Rourke information in recent weeks, according to a senior official.
Typically, a high level of curiosity in revealing a candidate’s political past is one indicator of their perceived viability. And a noticeable downtick in interest could signal an enthusiasm gap between where O’Rourke started and where he’s ended up in two months.
O’Rourke, himself, seemed to acknowledge the flagging interest in a recent interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
“I recognize I can do a better job also of talking to a national audience,” O'Rourke said. “I hope that I’m continuing to do better over time, but we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate with the campaign that we’ve run so far.”
His next big chance will be Tuesday night, when he’ll appear in his first CNN town hall at 10 p.m. from Drake University in Des Moines. The network has previously hosted such events for several of his rivals, giving a boost to some lesser-known candidates early into their campaigns. On Monday, O’Rourke told reporters he would participate in a Fox News town hall, a general-election strategy favored by some 2020 hopefuls as an attempt to reach voters beyond the traditional Democratic base.
But according to an analysis shared with The Daily Beast by Media Matters, a nonprofit that tracks right-wing coverage, even Fox News’ daily mentions of O’Rourke online have visibly declined since he announced his bid, indicating that he may no longer be considered a serious threat as a Democratic contender.
O’Rourke’s campaign sees it differently: “From my perspective there’s been no decline of oppo to respond to,” a source within the campaign said. Press requests from print and television outlets, including bookers in charge of getting candidates on the air, have not declined since the launch, the campaign source added.
While it’s still early to plot ad buys—the Iowa caucuses are nine months away—a source who tracks ad information for multiple political campaigns says that O’Rourke’s failure to get into that world early coincides with a frenzied campaign that’s no longer top-of-mind for voters.
“It fits with an overall theme of his campaign being a little disorganized,” the source who analyzes political ads said. “He had such a moment in 2018 but it seems to have fizzled out.”
While no pollsters or ad makers have been hired, a source within O’Rourke’s campaign first told The Daily Beast that they have been in initial discussions with various polling, data, and analytics firms, as well as outfits who do campaign ads. Bringing on a pollster had not previously been a top priority, the source said, adding that the campaign has been focused on talking to voters in 154 town halls and traveling to 116 cities.
O’Rourke has made recent inroads on the political staffing front, bringing on Jen O’Malley Dillon, Jeff Berman, and Rob Flaherty, top talent from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s campaigns, among other recent national and state hires. But he has missed out on other high-level talent who wandered to other campaigns, multiple sources said.
Meanwhile, other presidential campaigns have already hired staffers who previously worked with or expressed interest in O’Rourke. Shelby Cole, a top O’Rourke aide who helped him raise an eye-popping $80 million during his Senate campaign, joined California Sen. Kamala Harris’ team as its digital fundraising director. Emmy Ruiz, who served as Clinton’s state director in Nevada and Colorado in 2016, was thought to be seriously weighing joining O’Rourke before he announced, according to multiple Democratic sources unaffiliated with current campaigns. She later joined Harris as a senior adviser.
One top Democratic operative admitted to eyeing O’Rourke for months, but changed candidate loyalty after reading his announcement article in Vanity Fair.
“I was definitely interested in him back in January and February,” the veteran operative said, who has since joined another presidential campaign in a top position.
“The Vanity Fair story fed a fear I had, which was that he was a little too fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants,” the veteran operative said. “I just felt that he hadn’t totally thought this through. So that kind of soured me on him.”
—Asawin Suebsaeng contributed reporting for this article.