But some Democrats say it is Ms. Abrams, not Mr. O’Rourke, who was the breakout candidate from the 2018 midterms who should be generating presidential speculation. (Ms. Winfrey, to be sure, was a strong supporter of Ms. Abrams’s bid for governor last year.)
“If folks are looking at Beto because he ran in a red state differently, or because he inspired millions of people in his state and many more out of the state — if it’s because he ran a different type of candidacy where he went to every region of the state and spoke the same type of vision — then surely Stacey Abrams meets and exceeds that standard,” said Maurice Mitchell, the national director for the progressive Working Families Party.
“I find it perplexing that more pundits and more of the political establishment aren’t discussing Stacey in the same breath that they discuss Beto,” he said.
The openness to more candidates reflects the restiveness among many Democratic voters who fear that none of their current and likely candidates can appease all of the party’s ideological factions, which are sometimes bitterly opposed.
More liberal candidates such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mr. Sanders have energized the party’s anti-Wall Street wing with their desire to rein in unchecked capitalism, but have upset social justice advocates in recent months with high-profile blunders on issues of race and identity. Candidates seen as more centrist, including Senators Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have run afoul of some liberals for their unwillingness to directly target large corporations and wealthy Americans in their economic policies.
Mr. O’Rourke has intrigued some longtime party officials because he could possibly excite both groups of Democrats. But his liberal record has been questioned by liberal hard-liners in recent weeks as his voting history in the House has received additional scrutiny. And while his response to a question about black football players protesting police brutality went viral on social media during the midterm elections, it remains unknown whether a white man can be nominated to lead a Democratic Party that is, in 2020, increasingly reliant on votes from women and racial minorities — and particularly women of color.
“People try to serve as gatekeepers, and say ‘this person looks like a kind of candidate we could back,’” said Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, a political network of progressive women. “But, for me, from the very beginning, I looked at Stacey Abrams and said ‘this she is exactly what the country needs.’”