Beto O’Rourke Announces Presidential Run at Moment of U.S. ‘Peril’
Fresh off giving GOP Sen. Ted Cruz a run for his money in the 2018 Senate election, O’Rourke will now have to figure out how to translate his optimistic tone for a crowded primary.
Beto O’Rourke is finally getting in the race.
The former congressman and 2018 Democratic Senate nominee announced today that he will run for president in 2020.
In a three-and-half minute video posted to his Twitter and Facebook this morning, O'Rourke framed the current political environment as one of crisis and opportunity for the country.
“This moment of peril produces perhaps the greatest moment of promise for this country and for everyone inside it,’’ he said with his wife Amy sitting alongside him. An hour after the video had hit Twitter, it amassed over 200,000 views with another 120,000 on Facebook. The Texas Democrat will embark on a three-day tour of Iowa beginning Thursday then officially kick off his campaign with a rally in El Paso on March 30.
O’Rourke’s entrance into the presidential contest—amid a Democratic field of 15 candidates—puts to rest the lingering questions operatives and voters have had about whether he will join the crowded primary.
The only other potential candidate poised to shake up the race as much as O’Rourke’s entrance is Joe Biden. The former vice president is said to be inching closer to an affirmative decision, weighing a number of factors including the impact on his family and his ability to effectively fundraise in a broad, diverse field in a party that has moved leftward since he left the White House.
O'Rourke’s dynamic fundraising and deft use of social media to create viral moments and a sense of intimacy with his supporters has led Democratic observers to deem him a top-tier candidate. O’Rourke has also at times been among the top vote-getters in polling of early-voting states, even before declaring his candidacy. But the largely fawning media coverage has also led to criticism that there is not much in the way of substance behind his candidacy. O'Rourke's record in the House has not been defined by major legislative achievements, though his ex-colleagues have praised his temperament and vision.
At 46 years old, O’Rourke represents the younger end of the spectrum among those jockeying for the nomination, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Biden—who frequently poll as the two frontrunners—are both in their late 70s.
After representing Texas’ 16th congressional district since 2013, the El Paso native embarked on a longshot Senate bid in 2018 against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), in a state that hadn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.
O’Rourke quickly became a national phenomenon, running a heavily grassroots campaign that took him to all 254 Texas counties, his journeys often live-streamed from inside his car. He took mundane tasks like getting a haircut, doing laundry, or going through the drive-thru window at a Whataburger and turned them into must-watch events for exuberant voters. As a result, he cultivated a massive online following and an email list to match.
After pledging to take no PAC contributions for his Senate campaign, O’Rourke raised a historic $80 million while drawing praise from celebrities with viral moments like his response to a question about NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality.
O’Rourke ultimately lost to Cruz by 2.6 points while earning more than 4 million votes—a total that surpassed Hillary Clinton’s Texas tally in the 2016 presidential election. O’Rourke’s presence on the ballot, operatives said, helped in flipping congressional seats, state House and Senate seats and four major appeals courts into the Democratic column.
Such a close loss fed the sense of inevitability that O’Rourke would seek office again, whether against Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in a 2020 Senate race or for the presidency—as he ultimately decided to do.
Aimless for quite some time, and admittedly in a “funk” in the months following his Senate race, O’Rourke took solo road trips and penned introspective Medium posts—once more sparking criticism that his political trajectory was built around his personality and not a set of ideas.
O’Rourke also met with former President Barack Obama, who has privately spoken with many of the 2020 presidential aspirants, and re-emerged in a high-profile February interview with Oprah Winfrey.
It was then that O’Rourke more openly entertained the idea of running for president, something he had initially ruled out after his Senate bid. Days after the Oprah chat, the Texas Democrat appeared at a march in El Paso counter-programming a simultaneous rally held by President Trump.
“This is where we make our stand,” O’Rourke said, assailing the president’s representation of his hometown and the Trump push for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. “The country is counting on us, let’s do it.”
Only weeks after that, O’Rourke finally said that he and his wife Amy had made a decision about his future.
Ideologically, O’Rourke represents a more center-left offering to Democratic voters, with a political malleability that sometimes leaves him without specific answers on major issues. While his Senate bid was characterized by an unbridled sense of optimism and fierce opposition to Trump’s immigration policies, in the months since, O’Rourke has tried to put a sharper edge on his beliefs. In an extensive interview with The Washington Post in January, for example, O’Rourke said “I don’t know” when asked what should be done about visa overstays.
He has long advocated for legalizing marijuana, supports universal background checks for gun purchases, and favors universal health-care coverage. However, he has publicly disagreed with some of the congressional Medicare-for-All bills.
O’Rourke has also come under criticism for voting for Republican legislation in the past as well as being a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a set of House Democrats notably aligned with business interests. The former congressman also famously live-streamed a road trip with his friend, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), after the two were stranded because of a snowstorm. When Hurd faced a difficult 2018 re-election bid against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, O’Rourke irked some Texas Democrats when he declined to endorse her bid. Hurd would go on to win by less than 1,000 votes.
Over the weekend, Hurd said he would vote for Trump over his pal O’Rourke.