You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Beto O'Rourke announces in video he's running for president

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 3/14/2019 By Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman

Video by Associated Press

Beto O'Rourke announced in a video Thursday that he is running for president, and was immediately launching a three-day campaign swing through Iowa that will take him to more than a dozen of the 99 counties in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

The announcement by his campaign team came as no surprise, culminating months of speculation that began almost the moment he lost a bid for U.S. Senate last year to incumbent Republican Ted Cruz by 2.6 percentage points, the strongest statewide showing for a Texas Democrat in a generation.

But O'Rourke's declaration nonetheless will have profound reverberations for a Democratic race that already features 14 announced candidates, including fellow Texan Julián Castro, and with a few more, including former Vice President Joe Biden, expected to join them.

His disadvantages are obvious. A relatively unknown three-term congressman from El Paso, where he previously served as a member of the City Council, with an English literature degree from Columbia University, O'Rourke does not have what would ordinarily be considered the requisite credentials for a candidate for president.

But Barack Obama was in his first term in the U.S. Senate when he became the last Democrat to be elected president. And since the 46-year-old O'Rourke burst on the national scene last year as his Senate campaign caught fire, few candidates in the 2020 race have demonstrated his star power, his mastery of social media, his comfort with being on camera — from town halls to doing his laundry and getting his hair cut — his appeal to younger voters, and his ability to raise money. Eschewing money from political action committees, he amassed $80 million from donors across Texas and across the country, more money than any U.S. Senate candidate in history.

Thursday morning's video announcement capped what was sometimes criticized as O'Rourke's long and meandering road to his presidential bid. But it had the hallmarks of an intentional, well-planned and strategically deft buildup that included: a February interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which she fairly pleaded with him to run; the premiere last weekend at South by Southwest of "Running with Beto," an up-close and upbeat account of his Senate campaign by Austin director David Modigliani that will appear on HBO in late spring; and the release Wednesday of a profile in Vanity Fair featuring photos by Annie Leibovitz, one of America's premier portrait photographers. The cover photo shows O'Rourke as a kind of timeless, heroic figure out of the American Southwest, with his dog, Artemis, on an open dirt road, the mountains behind him.

"Beto's Choice," reads the headline, along with the pull quote, "I want to be in it. Man, I'm just born to be in it."

In his video announcement, O'Rourke declares, "This is a defining moment of truth for this country. And for every single one of us. The challenges we face right now; the interconnected crises of our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater. And they will either consume us or they will provide us with the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America."

O'Rourke says in Thursday's video that he is inviting people to come to El Paso on March 30 to help kick off his campaign. He says he is going to travel the country to hear what people have to say and, whether or not they can come, "I still want your help organizing where you live."

O'Rourke organized his Senate campaign last year as an unending road trip, visiting all 254 Texas counties, including vast stretches of rural Texas that Democrats in recent decades have stopped contesting or even campaigning in. While O'Rourke's strong showing rested on driving up turnout in the state's urban centers — he didn't improve much on recent Democratic performance in small-town Texas — his relentless pursuit of votes in every corner of Texas sent a message that he wanted to hear from all Texans, dovetailing with his rhetoric as a post-partisan candidate.

Slideshow by Tribune News Service

The current field includes six sitting United States senators — Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran a strong second to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president — a governor, Jay Inslee of Washington state, and a former governor, John Hickenlooper of Colorado. It is a diverse field and, like every president until now, save Obama, O'Rourke is a white male.

Also, in what could be either an advantage or disadvantage, O'Rourke's record in Congress and his Senate candidacy defied easy categorization along the ideological spectrum. His campaign was built around listening to Texas voters in one stop after another, retelling those stories in ensuing meetings with voters, and weaving it all into an uplifting tapestry of what Texas and America can and should be.

"If I bring something to this," O'Rourke is quoted as saying in the Vanity Fair profile, "I think it is my ability to listen to people, to help bring people together to do something that is thought to be impossible."

O'Rourke's three-day Iowa itinerary will begin with a midday stop at the Beancounter Coffeehouse & Drinkery in Burlington, an eastern Iowa city of 25,000, and includes stops in Muscatine, Mount Pleasant, Cedar Rapids, Liberty, Waterloo and Dubuque.

Iowa historically rewards the kind of town hall and one-on-one campaigning that O'Rourke excels at, and his campaign noted that eight of the counties O'Rourke will be visiting this week voted for Obama in 2012, when he carried the state, but for Trump in 2016, when he won Iowa.


More from Austin American-Statesman

Austin American-Statesman
Austin American-Statesman
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon