Beto O’Rourke, whose inspirational and unexpectedly close U.S. Senate race in Texas last November catapulted him to national prominence, told a television station in his hometown of El Paso on Wednesday that he was entering the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The former congressman — known to his most ardent supporters simply as “Beto,” short for Robert — had been flirting for weeks with tossing his hat into the ring.
“I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” O’Rourke said in a text to KTSM television, confirming rumors of an impending presidential candidacy that had seemed increasingly likely in recent days. “It’s a big part of why I’m running,” he said.
On Thursday, O’Rourke formally announced his plans to run for the White House.
“This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us,” he said in the video announcement. “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.”
In an expansive interview in the April 2019 edition of Vanity Fair magazine, O’Rourke, 46, suggested that he would take a message of uplift and optimism on the presidential campaign trail as well — even amid an already crowded field of more than a dozen Democrats.
“I just don’t get turned on by being against,” he said. “I really get excited to be for. That’s what moves me. It’s important to defeat Trump, but that’s not exciting to me. What’s exciting to me is for the United States to lead the world, in making sure that the generations that follow us can live here.”
O’Rourke, who once served on the city council in El Paso, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. He was re-elected to Congress in 2014 and 2016.
Last November, he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and narrowly lost. An O’Rourke victory would have given a Democrat a U.S. Senate seat in Texas for the first time since 1988.
Even in defeat however, his hard-fought race last November in a rock-ribbed Republican state — along with his inspirational campaign message as well as charismatic and appealing presence — led many supporters to urge him not only to seek elective office again, but to aim even higher and challenge incumbent President Donald Trump.
During his U.S. Senate campaign, O’Rourke not only garnered national name recognition but he proved his ability as a prodigious fundraiser. And for many, he is seen as a refreshing and inspirational antidote — both in style and substance — to Trump. Last month, as the president held a campaign event in El Paso, Beto staged a dueling rally to counter the president’s claims that El Paso “was dangerous before a border fence was built here in 2008.”
The president’s insistence on building a wall between Mexico and United States to help dampen the migration across the border is among Trump’s policies that has most rankled O’Rourke.
He recently told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the border wall in his hometown did not make his city any safer. And as for Trump’s proposed wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border, O’Rourke decried it as “a symbol of division.”
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) December 28, 2018
During the 2018 election campaign, O’Rourke drew bigger crowds than Cruz at his campaign rallies as donations gushed in from across the country, helping him hit a fundraising total of $80 million. His success beyond Texas’ borders is a testament to Democrats’ amplified civic engagement under Trump, not to mention O’Rourke’s magnetism. The race became the subject of an HBO documentary, Running with Beto, that premiered at this year’s South By Southwest festival.
Despite last November’s loss, O’Rourke told a crowd assembled in El Paso after the vote that he remained “inspired” and “as hopeful as I’ve ever been in my life.”
According to news reports, O’Rourke spent the weeks after his defeat consulting with Democratic advisers. Some Texas Democrats had hoped — evidently in vain — that O’Rourke would take another shot at running for a U.S. Senate seat and challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a longtime member of Republican leadership in the congressional upper chamber.
O’Rourke has advocated for a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, ending the War on Drugs, and has said he supports the Green New Deal.
And in his Vanity Fair interview, O’Rourke professed to being a fan of freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), speaking admiringly not just of her politics, but her boldness. “She does not seem to me to be afraid of making a mistake, or not saying it perfectly,” he told Vanity Fair “and in the process [she] says the most important—I think some of the most important—things anyone can be talking about right now.”
O’Rourke is not cut from the typical cloth for a presidential candidate. His has been an unusual trajectory to prominence. Between the baby boomers who have had a monopoly on the Oval Office for a quarter-century and the ascendant millennials who are holding elected office in unprecedented numbers, O’Rourke is thoroughly, almost parodically Gen X: A guy who spent the ‘90s listening to cassette tapes and getting stoned, someone who floundered and felt out of place and had a quarter-life crisis before finding his way.
Leading up to his decision to run, during conversations with loved ones and advisers, “a recurring theme emerged…with O’Rourke saying he would only seek the Democratic nomination ‘if he could be himself’ and run an unconventional campaign similar to his Senate bid where he is able to meet directly with voters.”
In his campaign announcement Thursday, he reiterated that theme.
“Over the coming days, I’m going to travel this country and listen to those who I seek to serve — to understand, from your perspective, how we can best meet [our] challenges,” he said. “… The only way for us to live up to the promise of America is to give it our all, and to give it for all of us.”