It is now the stuff of viral internet legend. After snow disrupted their flights, Will Hurd, the former Republican congressman, and Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from a nearby district, hopped into a rented Chevy Impala and took a cross-country road trip from Texas to Washington.
As they live-streamed what they called « a bipartisan City Hall » to millions of Americans on Facebook and Twitter, with hours-long political debates on health care, Willie Nelson chants and donut runs, the two captured national attention as Americans watched. cultivate a friendshipeven if they didn’t agree.
More than six years later, on a sunny July day, Mr. Hurd was on the road again, this time as a long-running presidential candidate, a moderate whose penchant for bipartisanship puts him at odds with the party’s current mood.
Driving in a gray rental SUV and slicing through wooded New Hampshire roads, he was seeking the spotlight once again, in a race for the Republican nomination that is led by some of the party’s loudest and most partisan voices.
“Have I changed my opinion that unites us more than divides us? No,’ said Mr. Hurd, recalling the lessons he had drawn from his journey with Mr. O’Rourke. « People wanted something different, they wanted it. »
Mr Hurd, 45, wants to show voters he brings something different to the race. A black Republican who has represented a Latino-majority district and wants to broaden his party appeal, it’s not about, as he puts it, « banning books » or « harassing my friends in the LGBTQ community. »
It’s a tough sell in a primary that has so far been dominated by culture war issues that are at the heart of the front runners, as well as the legal issues surrounding former President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Hurd has the most difficult of paths ahead of him. He’s been on the campaign trail for just over a month and lags behind his opponents in terms of manpower, name recognition and fundraising. The latest quarterly filings showed that he just had $245,000 cash on hand.
He may fall short of qualifying for the first Republican primary debate on Aug. 23, which requires candidates to attract a minimum of 40,000 unique donors and at least 1 percent voter support in three passed polls.
Even if he meets those requirements, he still might not take the debate stage: He refused to meet the Republican National Committee’s most controversial clause, which requires candidates to sign a pledge to support their party’s prospective candidate. Not having a seat at the debate table means losing the most important lever for gaining attention in the primaries.
At a pit stop outside Manchester, Mr Hurd said he had no problem defending another republican. But he said he would not support Mr. Trump. « I’m not going to lie to get a microphone, » said Mr. Hurd, digging into a Philly cheesesteak and savory fries.
Back on the road, Mr. Hurd hasn’t minimized the challenges. In interviews, town halls, and political events, he’s often quick to call himself a « dark horse » or « a start-up, » meticulously targeting the type of voter the data suggests might be most open to his background and message. Those voters, he added, include a cross-section of people — Republicans, independents and moderates — who are tired of the politics’ toxicity, reject Trump, and want someone with a vision for the future of the Republican Party. Proving that a group of people really exists as a coherent base of support will be the final test of his candidacy.
Mr. Hurd’s charisma and enthusiasm for shaky politics shows in one-on-one conversations, but how well his experience will translate on the chopping block remains to be seen. In a series of 2024 presidential candidate speeches at Dartmouth College, where he arrived that afternoon, an audience of more than 50 seemed to have gradually warmed to Mr. Hurd after a rocky start.
« We’re in competition: The Chinese government is trying to overtake us as a global superpower, » Hurd said, warning that AI could lead to unemployment but could also help close education inequality.
In the audience, Alice Werbel, 78, a retired nurse who arrived from Norwich, a dorm community in Vermont, said she saw Mr. Hurd as « promising » and praised him for his courage in refusing to sign off on the debate pledge.
But when Mr. Hurd’s remarks wrapped up, she didn’t seem convinced he had a path to the presidency. She said she intended to vote for President Biden in 2024.
“Biden should appoint him as tech czar or AI czar or cabinet secretary of technology,” he added.
Later, at a dinner where Mr. Hurd spoke to a small group of students, Josh Paul, 21, a conservative and government major, wasn’t sure the Texas Republican could also pull off a win, but said he would help Mr. Hurd try. He had found Mr. Hurd’s rejection of Mr. Trump so refreshing that he sought out a campaign staffer to sign up as a volunteer.
“I don’t see how, if conservatism is all about loyalty to your oath and the Constitution, how can you sit silently while this guy lies and lies and lies and incites an insurrection,” Paul said, referring to Trump and the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
For three terms, Mr. Hurd represented one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country: a large, largely Hispanic area that stretches from El Paso to the western tip of Texas, all the way along the nation’s southwestern border, to San Antonio. The only black Republican in the House when he announced his retirement in August 2019, Mr. Hurd said one of the reasons he was leaving Congress was to help diversify the ranks of his party.
Mr. Hurd has been a fierce and consistent critic of Mr. Trump, but he has remained a firm Republican with conservative values. In front of Dartmouth students, he said he would be willing to sign a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for some cases, such as rape or incest. Like his black Republican rivals, he walks a thorny line between denying that there is a system of racism in America and describing situations that seem to fit the definition.
While traveling through New Hampshire, she said that when her parents first arrived in San Antonio, they had to live in the only neighborhood where an interracial couple could buy a house. « There are still some communities that don’t have equal opportunity, » she said. But, “I don’t know if I would call it systemic racism. I don’t call it that.
In a Friday town hall at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, Thalia Floras, 60, a district retail manager and swinging Democrat, said her only concern with Mr. Hurd was his support for the abortion ban. Yet she appreciated that she seemed open to hearing opposing viewpoints and did not resort to phrases like « woke mob » or « radical left ».
Marie Mulroy, 75, a retired and independent public health worker raised by a Republican mother and a Democrat father, said she donated to Mr. Hurd because he was compassionate, liked working across the aisle and had « a better understanding of the world and where we’re going in the future. »
In any good political argument, he said, “you have to have the thesis, the antithesis and the synthesis. But « we don’t get the synthesis anymore, » she said. « And that’s where the voters are: the voters are sitting in the synthesis. »