Filmmaker David Modigliani got to first base with Beto O’Rourke. At an amateur club baseball game in Austin, Texas, in early 2017, O’Rourke, center fielder for the Los Diablitos de El Paso, singled and introduced himself to Modigliani, first baseman for the Texas Playboys Baseball Club, and said he was a congressman running for Senate.
This anecdote doesn’t make it into Modigliani’s documentary for HBO, “Running with Beto,” but it fits right into the movie’s vibe. O’Rourke’s “Let’s put on a multimillion-dollar Senate campaign” approach did not suffer from a lack of exposure, but Modigliani casts it in a different light by showing more than just the Texas Democrat’s armpit-sweat and crowd-surfing, DIY schtick. He wanted to document someone like O’Rourke “trying something new” in Texas, where Democrats “have been banging their heads against the wall for 30 years.”
That includes a few moments that show us why the campaign caught fire. It also includes the monotony of road food, uncomfortable times when O’Rourke chews out his campaign staff, and heartfelt ones where the emotional toll on his young family comes through. It’s easy to see why he connected with voters. But Modigliani also goes offstage with the candidate and his team and does not flinch from out-warting the warts-and-all O’Rourke.
Spoiler alert: O’Rourke ending up losing that 2018 race to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. After a little time off, he jumped into the race for president, joining the expansive 2020 Democratic field. Whether he can translate the energy and enthusiasm from his Senate run to the national stage is still an open question.
As many high-flying stars do, he has come down to Earth a bit. But his natural gifts as a politician, and his ability to raise boatloads of campaign cash, will ensure his spot on the national stage for a while. That’s where a film like “Running with Beto” comes in handy, giving viewers an off-camera view of the man, amid one of the defining endeavors of his life, and before the spotlight started to shine so bright.
Modigliani had carte blanche access and full editorial control, ensuring his vision of the campaign — and O’Rourke — would be the only thing that guided his storytelling. On the latest Political Theater podcast, the filmmaker discusses the year and a half he spent on the road, his previous film “Crawford,” punk rock and Texas politics.
- O’Rourke touts Senate run in White House bid — even though he lost
- Latest fundraising numbers from Beto O’Rourke and others are ridiculous
- Beto O’Rourke: Not just another bassist from El Paso
- What 39,000 words in 15 profiles didn’t tell you about Beto O’Rourke
- From rock god to aspiring lawmaker
- Will and Beto’s excellent adventure
- Beto O’Rourke ‘very likely’ to back Democrat over GOP friend Rep. Will Hurd, reversing his 2018 position
- Will the Lone Stars align for Beto O’Rourke in Texas Senate race?
- What will happen to all those Beto signs?
- Trump and Beto O’Rourke strike contrasting messages in dueling Texas rallies
- We’ve peered into the void of Beto’s mouth. Now what?
- Is Beto O’Rourke the next Jon Ossoff?
- Let Beto O’Rourke keep his money
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.