Oprah Winfrey almost got Beto O’Rourke to say it.
During a taped interview for Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations, set to premiere Feb. 16, the Texas Democrat edged closer to becoming a 2020 presidential candidate.
“I have been thinking about running for president,” O’Rourke revealed to Winfrey. An eruption of applause at the PlayStation Theater followed.
Ever the tactical interviewer, Winfrey pressed the Democratic star on that topic, asking what it will take for him to officially make a decision.
“For me, it will really be family,” O’Rourke said. He also moved up a timeline for his decision, telling Winfrey and the audience that his deadline would be “really soon, before the end of this month.”
The remainder of their conversation, spanning well over half an hour, touched on O’Rourke’s sense of disappointment after his close defeat in the Texas Senate race against Republican Ted Cruz, his views on immigration, and his conversation with former President Barack Obama. On the latter topic, O’Rourke divulged that Obama did not specifically encourage him to run for president, but he would not deny that the pair talked about the idea.
O’Rourke expressed a sense of trepidation about embarking on yet another time-consuming political campaign, lamenting that he has largely missed his family since he first ran for Congress in 2012.
“My family hasn’t seen me,” he said. “I haven’t been there for them.”
Before he had the opportunity to meet Oprah—something he described as surreal—O’Rourke sat quietly next to his wife Amy, listening to Winfrey tape a series of interviews with stars like Michael B. Jordan, Melinda Gates, and Lisa Borders. He was seated in a row behind Bradley Cooper (the final act after O’Rourke, who said he’d like to see the former congressman run for president) and Oprah’s best friend Gayle King, as cameras swiveled beneath the ceiling’s chandeliers, capturing the large audience while Winfrey held court on her stage with five consecutive guests.
Behind the mogul’s dark blue armchair was an aerial shot of Times Square with Oprah’s signature emblazoned across it and an outline of New York’s skyline, similar to the one of Seattle in famed sitcom Frasier’s title sequence.
Attendees milled about taking selfies in front of the stage as a playlist including the A Star is Born and Black Panther soundtracks boomed from the speakers, lending the midday taping the feeling of a nighttime awards show.
During the half-day taping’s intermission, before O’Rourke was set to be interviewed, Brandi Lewis and Kayla Veatch stood near the stage wearing his campaign’s famous black-and-white “BETO” shirts. They booked tickets and traveled from Texas when they heard that Winfrey would interview him, upset they hadn’t been able to see him in-person during his campaign.
“I’m here because I love Oprah,” Lewis, a 46-year-old principal from Dallas told The Daily Beast, joking that she and her daughter Veatch were playing “hooky” to be here. “But knowing that Beto was going to be here, just was like icing on the cake for sure.”
Lewis said she and her daughter voted for him in the Senate race and hoped that he came to Times Square prepared to declare his plans for higher office.
“I would love to hear that he’s going to announce that he’s running for president,” Lewis said. “So we’ll see.”
“I mean, it’s Oprah. Who wouldn’t announce with Oprah?”
They almost got their wish.
As he weighs his next political move, O’Rourke has taken a decidedly unique path—one that mirrors the unconventional nature of his Senate campaign. He embarked on a solo road trip and blogged about the experience on Medium, resulting in a guessing game among political operatives and reporters who parsed every phrase in his writings for some clue about his plans.
His most recent offering, published on Jan. 24, ended on a hopeful note following a trip that took him to Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico.
“It’s not going to be easy to take the decency and kindness we find in our lives and our communities and apply it to our politics, to all the very real challenges we face,” O’Rourke wrote. “We’re in this together, like it or not. The alternative is to be in this apart, and that would be hell.”
Those opaque musings were only mildly clarified by his appearance on Tuesday.
But the dynamics of a White House bid for O’Rourke would starkly deviate from his Senate contest against Cruz, a lawmaker who notably inspires uniquely strong antipathy among liberal voters nationwide.
In his quest to take down the Republican incumbent, O’Rourke raised a record $80 million total and became a nationwide sensation with his approach to campaigning and skill at creating viral moments. After months of town halls in every Texas county and live-streamed stops at Whataburger or parking-lot skateboarding sessions, O’Rourke lost by just 2.6 points but shepherded in down-ballot Democratic House candidate victories that have left Texas Republicans concerned about the state’s future as a decidedly conservative bastion.
But now, if O’Rourke decides to join the crowded 2020 Democratic primary, he will face an ideologically and biographically diverse set of opponents, many of whom have already begun traveling to early primary states and hiring staffers. He will also not be alone in his ability to generate massive small-dollar contributions—a hallmark of his Senate bid—with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expected to enter the race and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) already proving to be a prodigious fundraiser.
What he does have is a team of devoted activists who formed a Draft Beto committee to cajole him into running. They produced a digital ad and have recruited staffers in a number of states and hosted supporter events. On the day of O’Rourke’s interview with Winfrey, Draft Beto announced that they plan to hold more than two dozen house parties on his behalf around the country, with a goal of having at least 25 completed by the end of the month.
“Our grassroots network has grown, and folks from across the country are reaching out to host their own events. What we’re seeing is a grassroots effort to ask Beto O’Rourke to run for president, and to beat Donald Trump in 2020,” California and Nevada director Michael Soneff said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
Already the intense scrutiny that comes with a presidential campaign has left O’Rourke seemingly searching for answers at times. In an extensive interview with The Washington Post earlier this year, the ex-congressman reiterated his opposition to President Trump’s long-promised border wall but said “I don’t know” when asked what should be done to address visa overstays.
Additionally, his penchant for carving his own path has occasionally left some Democrats miffed, perhaps most infamously when O’Rourke declined to endorse Democratic House candidate Gina Ortiz Jones, who then lost by less than 1,000 votes to Will Hurd, a Republican incumbent representing a San Antonio district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. (O’Rourke accompanied Hurd on a bipartisan road trip from Texas to Washington, D.C. in early 2017, which raised both of the men’s profiles.)
Whatever his ultimate choice, Winfrey seemed to push O’Rourke closer to a decision.
“Every which way I tried,” she joked to her audience after he left the stage.