Beto O’Rourke announces run for US presidency in 2020

Former Texas congressman joins race for Democratic presidential nomination

Beto O’Rourke addressing a crowd in Austin, Texas before last November’s midterm elections. Photograph:  Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke addressing a crowd in Austin, Texas before last November’s midterm elections. Photograph: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

 

Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat who surged to prominence by nearly unseating Republican Senator Ted Cruz in last year’s midterm congressional elections, formally announced his candidacy for president on Thursday.

Mr O’Rourke said that he would run as a Democratic candidate for president. He had first suggested that he was running in a profile by Vanity Fair magazine published on Wednesday.

“This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us,” Mr O’Rourke said in a video announcing his candidacy.

“The challenges that we face right now, the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater. They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America.”

Mr O’Rourke, who is starting a three-day swing through eastern Iowa on Thursday, said he will hold a kick-off rally for his campaign in El Paso, Texas, on March 30th.

“You can probably tell that I want to run. I do. I think I’d be good at it,” Mr O’Rourke told Vanity Fair for a cover story featuring an image taken by the renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz.

The charismatic 46-year-old Irish-American has been mulling a presidential bid since his unexpectedly strong challenge to Mr Cruz. While he lost 51-48 per cent, his performance was seen as remarkable in a conservative state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate for three decades and not voted for a Democrat candidate for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Mr O’Rourke was largely unknown when he launched a long-shot campaign to beat Mr Cruz. The fluent Spanish speaker created a grassroots phenomenon by driving to all 254 counties in Texas and posting images of his travels on social media. He raised a record $38 million (€34 million) in the quarter before the election from small donors, easily outpacing Mr Cruz despite not taking money from special interests.

Donald Trump and the Republican establishment became so concerned Mr O’Rourke might beat Mr Cruz that the president flew to Texas to campaign for the man he once mocked as “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

“He’s not ‘Lyin’ Ted’ any more. He’s Beautiful Ted’,” Mr Trump said two weeks before the election, as he slammed Mr O’Rourke, who was attracting big crowds at his rallies across the second-biggest US state.

Moderately progressive

Mr O’Rourke enters the crowded Democratic field as a moderately progressive candidate who wants to reform the immigration system and opposes the wall that Mr Trump wants to build on the US-Mexico border. During the Senate race, he also made criminal justice reform a central issue, which helped generate strong support from African-Americans.

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia politics professor, said Mr O’Rourke was “terrific on the trail” but one question was whether he could “capture lightning in a bottle a second time”, given that his opponent will not be Mr Cruz.

“Whatever ‘it’ is in politics, he has ‘it’ – and most politicians don’t. But that only carries you so far,” said Mr Sabato. “He has a thinner résumé than most, and is fuzzy on policy in many cases. You start out thinking he is running for vice-president or maybe a cabinet post – yet Beto could surprise us just like he did in coming within 2½ points of Cruz.”

At rallies from Dallas to Amarillo in west Texas before the midterms, some supporters said that Mr O’Rourke reminded them of former president Barack Obama or of Robert Kennedy, the former attorney general and brother of president John F Kennedy who was also assassinated as he ran for president in 1968.

Democratic critics say Mr O’Rourke has no discernible record from his time in Congress. But his fans point to his optimistic vision for the US, his anti-Trump message on immigration and his ability to draw large, excited crowds as evidence that he has the ability to turn out enough voters to beat the president.

But Mr O’Rourke faces a very crowded and diverse field of opponents, who include two African-Americans and a record number of women, including senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. He also will face Bernie Sanders who, despite his age, was able to electrify younger voters in 2016 when he challenged Hillary Clinton for the nomination.

His campaign launch also comes as Joe Biden, the former vice-president and moderate Democrat, is expected to announce his own candidacy. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019