Sanders, who has galvanized the sorts of young liberals O’Rourke inspired in Texas, has bolstered his fund-raising prowess for a second White House bid. The self-described Democratic socialist from Vermont raised $10-million in just a week after his 2020 announcement last month.

Instead of Cruz, O’Rourke faces multiple rivals commanding respect and affection within the party. That list starts with Obama’s former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads Democratic polls as he considers entering the contest.

Like a gifted athlete reaching the highest level of competition, O’Rourke finds opponents with their own ample gifts. Sen. Kamala Harris of California displayed star power when she entered the race; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota showed off Midwestern grit by smiling through her announcement speech in a snowstorm.

Torching Vice President Mike Pence on CNN, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg made clear O’Rourke has company in the ability to thrill fellow Democrats with viral moments. Buttigieg’s resume – including Naval intelligence service in Afghanistan and executive experience in government – contrasts sharply with O’Rourke’s stints as a nanny, punk-rock musician and House backbencher.

And Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, after decades of scholarship and work in consumer protection, has the ability to challenge O’Rourke on how his soft-focus appeals for unity can deliver concrete economic gains for struggling families. Televised debates begin in three months.

The Democrats’ attitudinal divide poses its own test. His call to “not allow our differences to divide us” made sense in conservative Texas, where Democrats can only compete by broadening their base of support.

Democrats hold higher ground nationally, with popular vote victories in six of the last seven presidential elections.