O’Rourke Makes It Official, He’s Joining The 2020 Presidential Contest

March 14, 2019 by Dan McCue
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) during a debate with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University in Dallas on Sept. 21, 2018. (Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Beto O’Rourke entered the 2020 race for the White House on Thursday, telling supporters ahead of a three-day campaign swing in Iowa that he intends to run “a positive campaign” that will seek to “unite a very divided country” and “bring out the very best in every single one of us.”

“This is a defining moment of truth for this country and every single one of us,” the 46-year-old former Texas congressman says in a nearly 4 minute campaign video. “The challenges that we face right now .. the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate, have never been greater and they will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America.”

O’Rourke, who was little known outside of his native El Paso, Texas before last year, became a superstar in Democratic circles during his nearly successful bid to unseat Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz.

It was then that his talent for grassroots organizing and social media savvy galvanized young voters, minorities and donors from across the country. The result was that by election night he would come within 3 percentage points of beating Cruz in a deeply red state.

He also shattered fundraising records, bringing in more than $80 million during his Senate campaign — $38 million from July to September 2018 alone.

During that campaign O’Rourke visited all 254 of Texas’ counties, drawing large crowds even in  conservative areas that Democrats had long given up on. His schedule through the weekend suggests he plans to adopt a similar strategy in the early primary states. By the time he leaves Iowa Saturday night, he’s expected to have been in at least 12 of its 99 counties.

While O’Rourke’s announcement gave a shot of adrenaline to the early campaign season Thursday morning, it also came with many unknowns.

Unlike many of his 14 Democratic rivals for the nomination, O’Rourke has appeared conflicted about running, describing himself in his online journal not so long ago as being in a “funk.”

During his senate campaign against Cruz, O’Rourke insisted that he had no interest in running for president, saying he would return to private life in El Paso should he lose.

But during his election night concession speech, he seemed to have a change of heart, telling supporters in his nationally televised concession speech, “We’ll see you down the road.”

And as he continued to roll out his campaign Thursday, he provided little clue as to the rationale of his candidacy — other than positivity — and that he’s devoted much time to building a national campaign operation.

In his campaign video O’Rourke says he plans to “travel this country and listen to those I seek to serve.”  He also invites would-be supporters “to the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen.”

In the meantime, he’s got some catching up to do.

With more than 10 months to go before the Iowa caucuses, most polls show the undeclared former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., on top, with Sen. Bernie Sanders second and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker alternating in third place.

Biden is expected to announce he’s entering the race in the next few weeks.

One thing all of the leading Democratic contenders have in common are extensive legislative records.

O’Rourke, by comparison passed just three bills during his six years in Congress. Two of these  were aimed at providing temporary health benefits and college tuition assistance to veterans. The other renamed El Paso’s federal courthouse in honor of former El Paso Mayor and U.S. Rep. R.E. Thomason.

On the campaign trail in Texas, O’Rourke positioned himself as a liberal, supporting President Donald Trump’s impeachment, universal health care, stiffer gun laws, marijuana, and relaxed immigration policies.

But for some in the party, notably supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic presidential campaign, O’Rourke’s positions didn’t go far enough to the left.

He mostly ignored the complaints, but later said he didn’t know if he’s liberal enough to be called a progressive.

In an interview with The New York Times, Robby Mook, who served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in 2016, said of O’Rourke that “It’s not just a matter of being authentic … It’s authentically taking on Trump and challenging political norms.”

The Associated Press noted Thursday that should O’Rourke win the presidency in 2020, he’ll be the first candidate to parlay a Senate race defeat into a successful White House bid since Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln lost his Senate bid to Stephen Douglas in Illinois in 1858, then was elected president two years later.

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