Former Texas congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke threw his hat into a crowded ring for the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination yesterday, urging the party to take a risk on an inexperienced but social-media savvy candidate to rival Donald Trump.
The 46-year-old, who speaks fluent Spanish and used to play guitar in a punk rock band, rose to prominence last year when he unsuccessfully challenged Ted Cruz, the Republican Texas senator, for his seat.
He came within three percentage points of winning in America’s largest Republican state, shattering fundraising records in the process, after using Facebook to develop a nationwide grassroots following.
The announcement of Mr O’Rourke’s White House run was carefully coordinated with a profile with pictures by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair. He told the magazine: “Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment.”
Hours later he made a formal announcement in a three-minute video released on the internet. Sitting with his wife, Amy, in their home in El Paso, Texas, Mr O’Rourke said: “This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us. I am running to serve you as the next president.
“The challenges we face are the greatest in living memory.
“No one person can meet them on their own. Only this country can do that, and only if we build a movement that includes all of us.”
He said America was the “last great hope on Earth” and was facing a time of “maximum peril”. He vowed to run a “positive campaign” that would “unite a very divided country”.
Mr O’Rourke, who spent six years as a congressman from 2013 to January this year, soon hit the road to go to Iowa where he held his first campaign event at a coffee shop in the town of Keokuk.
Standing on a chair, he told the small group of coffee drinkers he would “fix our democracy” as the spectacle was carried live on national television despite his lack of political experience.
While campaigning in Iowa, which votes first in the Democrat primaries, Mr O’Rourke issued an apocalyptic warning on climate change. He said: “We face catastrophe and crisis on this planet, even if we were to stop emitting carbon today. A crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction.”
President Trump said he had watched Mr O’Rourke’s opening campaign event on TV, and singled out his highly gesticulative speaking style.
He said: “I think he’s got a lot of hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement. I said, ‘Is he crazy? Or is that just the way he acts?'”
Senator Bernie Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden, who is expected to announce his White House campaign soon, are leading early polls in the contest for the Democratic nomination, which already has more than a dozen contenders.
Mr O’Rourke won national attention for the first time in 2017, when he and Will Hurd, a Republican who represents the 23rd Congressional District in Texas, to the east of El Paso, drove 2,500km together from San Antonio to Washington after a winter storm grounded flights. Hundreds of thousands of people watched a Facebook video live-stream of the duo’s “bipartisan road trip”, a quaint reminder of the days when politics wasn’t quite so bitter. Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Mr O’Rourke and Mr Hurd setting out on that trip.
Two weeks later, Mr O’Rourke announced in Texas that he was running for US Senate, challenging Mr Cruz and promising to bring compassion and humanity to Washington.
He tried to appeal not just to liberals living in Texas’s biggest cities but also to independents and conservatives who were dismayed by Republican policies, especially when it came to the treatment of undocumented immigrants and refugees.
Mr O’Rourke (46) has been a politician for much of his adult life. He grew up in El Paso, where his mother ran a furniture store and his father was a politician. He attended an elite all-boys boarding school in Virginia during his high school years, then graduated from Columbia University. He eventually returned home to El Paso, where he started an internet services and software company. He was elected to the El Paso City Council in 2005.
In 2012, he challenged El Paso’s longtime Democratic congressman, Silvestre Reyes, in the primary and narrowly won, despite Mr Reyes’ endorsement from President Barack Obama.
Following his unsuccessful senate bid last year he has been endorsed by celebrities including Beyonce, the pop singer, and is the only 2020 contender to have appeared recently on Oprah Winfrey’s television show. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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