Updated at 4:59 p.m. ET on July 29, 2019
FLINT, Mich.—“Do you need me to check the sturdiness of the noodle?”
Beto O’Rourke leaned over a pot of boiling water. Mae and David Collins and their 17-year-old twins had invited him over for dinner. (A nonprofit group had connected them before the candidate’s visit to Michigan last week.) The former Texas representative and not-so-long-ago Democratic sensation sat around the Collinses’ dining-room table, talking about what had gone wrong since lead poisoned their water and a generation of the city’s children—a crisis that, five years later, still hasn’t been entirely resolved. Of course, this was O’Rourke having a searching conversation, so a staffer was squeezed into the corner live-streaming the exchange almost from the moment he’d walked in the door carrying groceries. Wally, the family dog, barked in the other room—“He’s damaged from the water,” Mae Collins explained. Wally was still drinking out of a bowl filled from the faucet long after the Collins parents realized they needed to keep their children away from the taps. The dog’s hair went white, and, according to his owners, he’s now angry and on edge all the time.
It’s one thing to talk about government failure. It’s another, O’Rourke believes, to speak directly to potential Michigan voters about what the Flint water crisis has meant for their homes and their lives and their communities—to hold up for the camera the jugs of water they have to buy just to make pasta. At home in Texas, the candidate is the cook, but his wife, Amy O’Rourke, took the lead in Flint on Wednesday night. (He did chop the onions and came back to add all the pieces to the sauce.) He joked about throwing a piece of spaghetti against the wall to see whether it would stick. Instead, he grabbed a piece and sucked it in over a few bites: approved. “We got it just in time!” he said.