2020 Presidential Race

Analysis: Three vying for the presidential nomination — and Texas bragging rights

At first, Beto O'Rourke looked like the Texas favorite in the Democratic presidential contest. And Julián Castro made a bid for that unofficial title after the first debates. But there's a third Texan seeking that nomination, named Marianne Williamson.

From left: Presidential candidates Julián Castro, Marianne Williamson and Beto O'Rourke.
From left: Presidential candidates Julián Castro, Marianne Williamson and Beto O'Rourke.  Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson: Castro/REUTERS/Mike Segar: Williamson/Rachel Zein: O'Rourke

We're tracking the Texas stories in the presidential contest, from the Texans in the race to all candidates' efforts to reach voters and raise money in the state. We've also compiled stories from our archives related to Texans running for president.

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Maybe Marianne Williamson is The Texan.

That title is contested, most recently wrested from Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and San Antonio’s Julián Castro. Lots of people think those are the only two Texans in the hunt for the Democratic Party’s presidential 2020 nomination.

“A few months ago, they were writing me up as the other Texan,” Castro said in Austin on Friday, playing up the donations and supporters he gained since the Wednesday night debate that featured his well-timed swat at O’Rourke. “But that is no more. I am the Texan.”

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Castro, lagging behind O’Rourke in the polls, scolded the El Pasoan during that debate for not supporting a change in the federal law that Castro said provides the Trump administration’s rationale for separating migrant families at the border.

The third Texan in the contest was on the stage the next night. Williamson was born and raised in Houston before leaving for California, where she went on to become a successful lecturer and author of 13 books on relationships, weight loss, women, public affairs and politics. She also started a meals-on-wheels-like program in Los Angeles — Project Angel Food — that’s been around for more than 20 years. She ran for Congress in 2014, finishing fourth in a contest with more than a dozen candidates. And now she’s in another political pack, one of 23 people seeking the nomination to challenge Donald Trump in November 2020.

She stood out on the debate stage, in part, because she was so unlike the other aspirants. None of the others could say Oprah Winfrey or Gwyneth Paltrow had ever looked to them for spiritual guidance or had authored a book with chapters on “Love in a Time of Crisis” and “An Economics of Love: A New Bottom Line.” That was a good thing or a bad one, depending on each viewer’s thinking. But the difference was pronounced. At one point, she chided the competition for all their plans and proposals.

“I’ll tell you one thing: It’s really nice if we’ve got all these plans, but if you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming, because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan,” she said. “He won by simply saying, ‘Make America great again.’”

Yeah, that was odd.

She elaborated on it later, as reported by the Des Moines Register: “I know I sounded silly saying plans don’t matter. I’m a practical woman. ... I understand there are practical things that must be done.”

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At Monday’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition meeting in Chicago, she sounded unfazed. “In looking at some of the memes, I’ve been on the floor laughing as much as anybody has, and I have not found a lot of mean-spiritedness there. America could use a good laugh,” she said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I understand that this was not an environment that I was used to — the kind of political boxing — but I also understand I said some very substantive things.”

Williamson has a following from her lectures and books, a lot of celebrity friends, benefactors and supporters. And she garnered enough attention to get the 65,000 donations it took to qualify to get onto the debate stage. It’s usually safe to wager against candidates like this — but give her what’s due her: Contestants must be present to win, and she cleared that hurdle.

It’s not like she was the only one-percenter on the stage that night, either, or the only Texan gasping for political oxygen.

The more experienced Texas politicians on the stage got a lot of attention crossing swords Wednesday — a back-and-forth that boosted Castro’s standing and added another O’Rourke-is-fading anecdote to the stack. The next thing and the last thing sometimes pass in the night. Castro telling O’Rourke to do his homework on immigration was a case of a flat-lined candidate showing signs of political life by smacking down a candidate who’s better known but foundering.

Castro’s problem at the moment is that he’s not well known. O’Rourke’s trouble is that he is.

The former San Antonio mayor has been getting a lot of attention since then from people who wouldn’t have recognized him in a grocery checkout line two weeks ago.

But he wasn’t the only Texan who stood out in the first round of debates. The unusual spiritual adviser/writer didn’t make the political splash Castro made, but she did attract some attention.

That seems Texan, doesn’t it?

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