Texas media wonders: can Harry Styles and Willie Nelson save O'Rourke's campaign?

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

I think it’s safe to say that Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke’s bid to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t playing out the way Democrats were hoping it would. Polling shows Abbott with a steady lead between 7 and 11 points, and the Republican has received support from at least 50% of survey respondents in the last five statewide polls. O’Rourke’s embrace of new gun control laws even while hedging on his 2020 presidential campaign pledge to ban and confiscate AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles hasn’t moved the needle, even as those same surveys suggest Texans are supportive of some gun control measures like raising the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21. Now the Texas media is pondering whether a couple of celebrity endorsements could tip the race towards O’Rourke.

Harry Styles is riding the “watermelon sugar high” of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign, endorsing the Democratic challenger during his fifth performance at the Moody Center Sunday. O’Rourke made a surprise appearance during the concert, appearing on the jumbo screen in the pit.

It was the second of two celebrity endorsements Sunday, coming just hours after Willie Nelson joined O’Rourke for a “Vote ‘Em Out” campaign rally and political endorsement. But what’s the weight of these endorsements at this stage in the election?

“Celebrity endorsements work best when they’re done early and a lot of people haven’t made up their minds,” said Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University. “Because when we see candidates without a lot of name recognition, having a celebrity or somebody famous come out and endorse that candidate will give them instant credibility.”

In other words, don’t expect these endorsements to make much of an impact. O’Rourke is a known entity in Texas politics, and one who’s managed to raise his profile even as he’s lost a Senate race against Ted Cruz and ended his presidential campaign before the first 2020 primary was held. Moreover, while I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Willie Nelson (he was my mom’s favorite country artist when I was growing up), I think it’s fair to say that his ability to influence Texas elections is slim to none. The last Democratic governor in the Lone Star State was Ann Richards, who left office in 1995, and neither Nelson or any other celebrity endorsers have been able to elevate Democratic candidates to victory.

It’s even more amusing to me that some in the media think that Harry Styles, who isn’t even a Texas voter (or a U.S. citizen) is going to serve as O’Rourke’s kingmaker.

Those who are fans of Styles are likely already familiar with some of his politics, which have been on display throughout his Austin residency at the Moody Center. For his Love On Tour, Styles has partnered with the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control in an effort to reduce gun violence.

Styles has also vocalized his support for abortion access at his Austin shows, telling concertgoers they have the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies.

“I know that there are hard things out there at the moment, and I would like to remind you to take a look around this room,” Styles said. “You are not alone at any point. Do not let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do with your body.”

Apparently that doesn’t include gun control activists telling you how you can and cannot protect your own body, which is perfectly fine for Styles and his anti-gun buddies.

Styles’ endorsement has already been criticized by the Republican National Committee, with RNC spokesperson Macarena Martinez saying in a statement: “Beto has shown Texans that his priority is cozying up to coastal elites and celebrities. We’ll see in a few short weeks how many are left standing around him when he loses for the third time in November.”

I don’t want Texas gun owners to get too cocky. It’s still entirely possible for O’Rourke to eke out a victory, especially if Second Amendment supporters get complacent over the next few weeks. Celebrity endorsements won’t put Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke over the top, but gun owner apathy could, and it’s critically important for Second Amendment supporters to stay engaged and involved right up through Election Day.