Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced Thursday that he’s running for president in 2020, pledging to win over voters from both major parties as he tries to translate his political celebrity into a formidable White House bid.
Until he challenged Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year, O’Rourke was little known outside his hometown of El Paso. But the 46-year-old Spanish-speaker became a sensation during a campaign that used grassroots organizing and social media savvy to mobilize young voters and minorities. He got within 3 percentage points of upsetting Cruz in the nation’s largest red state — and shattered fundraising records in the process — immediately fueling chatter that he could have higher ambitions.
“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” O’Rourke said in a video announcement. “We saw the power of this in Texas.”
Weeks of teasing an announcement are behind him, but O’Rourke now must prove whether the energy he brought to the Texas campaign will resonate on a much larger stage. For all the buzz associated with his candidacy, the former three-term congressman hasn’t demonstrated much skill in domestic or foreign policy. And, as a white man, he’s entering a field that has been celebrated for its diverse roster of women and people of color.
O’Rourke’s entry is already reverberating around the crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls.
O’Rourke had never before visited Iowa, which kicks off presidential voting, but said during his first stop at a coffeeshop there Thursday, “I could care less about your party persuasion, your religion, anything other than the fact that, right now, we are all Americans.”
His comments were carried live on several cable media networks, the kind of exposure other 2020 Democrats don’t often get.
O’Rourke has promised to travel the country listening to voters, then will return to El Paso, on the border with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 30 for an official campaign kickoff.
O’Rourke joins a large and unsettled 2020 field in which his fundraising prowess, southwestern Texas charm and anti-establishment attitude have quickly turned political heads. He passed just three bills while in Congress, and a lack of governing experience could hurt, but President Donald Trump’s rise suggests that the U.S. electorate might welcome an outspoken outsider.
Trump has blasted the idea of an O’Rourke presidential try, calling him a “flake” and a “total lightweight” and joking, “I thought you were supposed to win before you run for president.”
O’Rourke visited all 254 of Texas’ counties while running for Senate and often drew larger-than-expected crowds, including in heavily conservative areas. It’s a strategy that could serve him well in Iowa, where Cruz campaigned in all 99 counties before winning its caucus during the 2016 GOP presidential primary.