June 6, 2019 / 4:52 PM / 11 days ago

Beto O'Rourke, a Democratic darling in 2018, struggling on national stage

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who nearly won a U.S. Senate seat last year in the reliably conservative state, is struggling in his White House bid and has lost support from young voters and minorities, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos national poll.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke speaks at a campaign house party in Salem, New Hampshire, U.S., May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The public opinion poll released on Thursday shows support for O’Rourke among registered Democratic and independent voters slipped by 3 percentage points since a May survey to 3% overall.

During the same time, other leading Democratic presidential candidates saw their support increase. The poll found 31% of Democratic and independent voters would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, 14% supported U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and 9% backed U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, netted 6% and 5%, respectively, making O’Rourke the sixth most popular choice in a field of 24 candidates.

Support for O’Rourke was down 5 points among voters ages 18-34 from May, and his support from non-white adults declined by nearly 3 points.

A spokesman for O’Rourke did not respond to a request for comment.

With eight months to go before Democrats begin holding nominating contests around the country, there is still a lot of time for O’Rourke to turn things around. O’Rourke, who entered the race in March, has been working to re-energize his campaign and bring a more traditional approach to his White House run after a less-structured strategy in his Senate campaign.

But political analysts said his numbers are moving in the wrong direction at a time when the Democratic Party is making it harder for candidates to get on the national debate stage.

The Democratic National Committee announced last week that candidates would need at least 2% of support in surveys like the Reuters/Ipsos poll to attend debates in September and October.

“Beto’s having a tough time making the transition” to national politics, said Mark Jones, an expert in Texas politics at Rice University in Houston.

In last year’s Texas election, O’Rourke did not need to work very hard to get the attention of liberal voters when he was the only Democrat in the race, Jones said.

“Now he’s competing against people who are just as viable to get the support of African Americans, from Latinos,” Jones said. “He’s competing against well-known candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who have been pursuing the same policies for a long time.”

BIDEN LEADS ON BEATING TRUMP IN POLL

When it comes to picking a nominee, the poll found Democrats are less concerned with the candidates’ track records on various issues than they are with finding someone who can win. Among registered Democrats, 41% said the most important factor for a presidential candidate was his or her ability to beat President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee.

In comparison, only 12% said they were looking for someone who was strong on health care, the top issue for Democrats over the past few years.

According to the poll, Democrats considered Biden the best presidential choice for each of those priorities. The former vice president for two terms under President Barack Obama also outperformed other candidates in a theoretical general election matchup with Trump: 50% of registered voters said they would back Biden, while 36% would vote for Trump.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English in the United States between May 29 and June 5. It gathered 4,416 responses in all, including 3,851 registered voters, 1,537 registered Democrats and 734 registered independent voters. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 2 percentage points.

Unigka Gee, 36, a poll respondent from Houston, said she voted for O’Rourke when he ran for the U.S. Senate last year. But for the presidency, Gee said she would be more comfortable with an experienced candidate like Biden.

O’Rourke “seemed fun. I watched his videos, his skateboarding. He was in a band,” she said. “But as president? No. I think things are really messed up right now in America, and I trust Biden more.”

Click here for the full poll results: tmsnrt.rs/2QRcpGo

Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Diane Craft

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