"He's never had a real challenger," said O'Rourke, who launched a website last night but hasn't yet made an official announcement. "I think competition always produces better results than a monopoly."
O'Rourke, who served on the City Council for six years before leaving the post this year, has long considered a congressional run, so his decision is not a big surprise. But it does set up another big political brawl in this city known for bruising Democratic melees.
"This is going to liven things up here," said El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Danny Anchondo.
Reyes and O'Rourke come from two long feuding camps in the local Democratic Party. Reyes, a former U.S. Border Patrol sector chief who was elected to Congress in 1996, is leader of the more conservative, establishment Democrats. O'Rourke, who runs a technology consulting and web design firm and is the son of a former El Paso County judge, is aligned with former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and more liberal, progressive Democrats.
Reyes, in a statement, said he stands by his record of working for El Paso. “During my time in office, I have worked tirelessly to foster economic growth, strengthen education, and protect vital programs and services that are important to El Paso," Reyes said.
When it comes time for the campaign barbs, they won't be the first ones launched between O'Rourke and Reyes. In 2009, O'Rourke drew national attention when he proposed a city resolution urging Congress to consider legalizing narcotics as a way to stem the bloody drug war raging in Mexico, just yards away from El Paso. Reyes was unimpressed with the proposal, which was eventually vetoed by Mayor John Cook. He said he worried the city could lose federal money if it took such a controversial stance.
In the decade and a half that Reyes has been in Congress, Anchondo said, none of his opponents have truly threatened his hold on the position. O'Rourke could be a threat. "We all know Shapleigh is probably going to help him out," Anchondo said, "but he carries his own weight."