Beto O'Rourke names Texas staff for presidential campaign

Texas Tribune News

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks to supporters gathered in front of the state Capitol in Austin.
Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks to supporters gathered in front of the state Capitol in Austin.
Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is naming staff to help him win the Texas primary, an early move signaling his seriousness about competing in his home state.

The former El Paso congressman is set to name a Texas leadership team Tuesday morning, two days before much of the Democratic field heads to Houston for their latest debate. The team, first shared with The Texas Tribune, will be led by Delilah Agho-Otoghile, who most recently was field director for Stacey Abrams’ 2018 campaign for Georgia governor. Agho-Otoghile has organizing experience both on presidential campaigns — she worked for Martin O’Malley and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 cycle — and in Texas, where she has held positions with Equality Texas and Battleground Texas.

Delilah Agho-Otoghile  with State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston.
Delilah Agho-Otoghile with State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston.
Image via Twitter

While Agho-Otoghile will be O’Rourke’s state director, Andy Brown will serve as the candidate’s Texas senior adviser. A veteran Democratic operative who once chaired the Travis County party, Brown was a senior official on O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign.

Another alum of O’Rourke’s Senate bid, Chris Chu de León, will be Texas political adviser. Chu de León was a senior field manager for O’Rourke on the 2018 campaign.

O’Rourke’s Texas team also features two finance-related staffers: Laura Hernandez, who will be finance director, and Sima Ladjevardian, who will serve as senior adviser for finance and political. Hernandez is an Austin politico who has worked for Mayor Steve Adler and at the state Capitol; Ladjevardian is a Houston attorney who was senior adviser and campaign finance liaison for O’Rourke’s 2018 run.

O’Rourke remains a political force in Texas after his near-miss loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz last year, and he consistently occupies the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in Texas primary surveys, alternating with former Vice President Joe Biden. As O’Rourke’s poll numbers remain low elsewhere, his campaign has made increasingly clear that it views Texas as not only integral to his path to the nomination but also his argument that he can prevail in November.

“The historic work we did in 2018 put Texas’s 38 Electoral College votes in play, and we can win them, which is how we defeat Donald Trump in November of 2020 and bring this divided country together again in January of 2021,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “With a talented leadership team that not only knows Texas but reflects its incredible diversity, we are ready to organize everywhere, engage everyone, and win.”

While Texas has already drawn ample attention from the Democratic field, O’Rourke is the first candidate to announce staff dedicated to winning the state’s March 3 primary, when 228 delegates are up for grabs. It’s not his first move to organize Texas this cycle, though — his campaign, which is based in El Paso, opened a field office there in July and had its first organizing event last week in Austin, with more on the way in other cities.

The news of O’Rourke’s Texas hires comes as most of the Democratic contenders descend on the state for the third primary debate Thursday in Houston. Some are hosting their own campaign events around the debate; the other Texan in the race, Julián Castro, had a “Castro Country” rally Monday evening in Houston, while U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is hosting a town hall Tuesday evening in Austin.

And earlier Tuesday morning, Biden unveiled five new Texas endorsements, including state Rep. Victoria Neave of Dallas, former U.S. Rep. Gene Green of Houston and Mike Collier, the 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor.

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.