Election 2020 Beto O'Rourke

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2018, file photo. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, speaks during a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas. O’Rourke barged into last year’s Texas Senate race almost laughably early in March 2017. Now, as the onetime punk rocker mulls a much-hyped White House bid for 2020, he’s doing anything he can to stay in the spotlight without formally starting a campaign. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

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Why two SC Democrats are betting on Beto

Fresh off his stunning upset win in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, Democratic operative Tyler Jones said his phone has been lighting up with offers from 2020 presidential contenders who've asked him to join their team.

Instead, he's turned them all down to take a chance on a candidate who has not even publicly declared whether he's interested in running for president or not.

He's betting on Beto O'Rourke.

"You support who you believe in, and he's the person I believe in," said Jones, who is acting as state director for the grassroots Draft Beto initiative. "And he's also who I believe can beat Donald Trump."

The Texas Democrat became a household name when he raised millions in his 2018 race against iconic Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Cruz. O'Rourke stunned political operatives when he nearly succeeded in pulling off a win in the largest red state, coming within 3 percentage points of beating Cruz.

One reason why Jones said he believes in O'Rourke is simple: He saw the same authenticity in Joe Cunningham.

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Jones is not alone. Boyd Brown, a former Democratic state lawmaker, is also working with the Draft Beto group as its senior national adviser. He, too, invokes Cunningham unprompted when explaining why he thinks O'Rourke could appeal to South Carolina voters.

"The first time I met Joe Cunningham it was through Tyler Jones, and within five minutes you knew the guy was the real deal and that’s the same feeling I get with Beto O Rourke, Brown said. "People like him. He likes people. He gets politics. He gets a policy. He knows how to fundraise. I get the same feeling about Beto."

But Brown admits there is a risk with joining a draft campaign as opposed to linking up with one of the declared candidates. "Right now I think our cards are probably like pocket 10s, and we are hoping they become pocket aces," Brown said.

That could change today when O'Rourke sits down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey in New York. It will be a test for the Texas Democrat who has been traveling and musing about his experiences on the road as opposed to offering any real indication of his impending political aspirations.

For Jones, it will also be a chance to see if his preferred candidate gives any hints about next steps even if it means waiting until the interview airs on Feb. 16.

"He’s really got to figure this out on his own, but I think that everybody has a time in politics and, unfortunately, politicians often have bad timing," Jones said on the eve of O'Rourke's interview.

Brown said there's no doubt that O'Rourke political stock is rising, but that he needs to move fast. At a recent meeting in Rock Hill, Brown noted between 50-75 people came to hear him talk about Draft Beto efforts.

"It’s been refreshing and redeeming to see this sort of excitement. Here we are Tyler and I, who are out here on this limb, really rolling the dice on the guy who’s not even a candidate yet. But people are responding," Brown said.

For now, Jones said he will continue to run what he explains is an otherwise normal campaign: Identifying supporters, seeking out potential endorsements, establishing campus groups.

"He may choose not to run," Jones said of the reality that he could be putting his efforts into a political campaign that never really starts, "but I think it is incumbent on people like me, who run campaigns and run them in early primary states, to speak up and say, 'He’s who we want.'"

Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham invites GOP mayor of Folly Beach to State of the Union

President Donald Trump's much anticipated "State of the Union" address will happen tonight, and South Carolina congressman Joe Cunningham has invited a Republican ally as his guest.

Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, who bucked party lines to endorse Cunningham in the 1st Congressional District race, will be Cunningham's guest.

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The invitation gives Cunningham a chance to re-emphasize two of his campaign priorities: bipartisanship and protecting the coastal environment.

Read more about who else is going to the State of the Union tonight as guests of South Carolina congressmen.

In other news:

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CNN will not be renewing the contributor contract for former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, according to a new report from The Hollywood Reporter.

"I am very thankful for the opportunity CNN gave me," Bauer said in an email to The Hollywood Reporter. "The silent majority in our country feel like they do not have a voice in politics or the media. I have tried to express many of their feelings and why they supported Donald Trump."

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Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.