With Texas rallies, O’Rourke seeks to reclaim 2020 star status

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US Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the young-looking Texan who has spent two weeks campaigning for president in early-voting states, holds a hometown kickoff rally Saturday in El Paso, aiming to raise his profile in an increasingly crowded field.

The 46-year-old former congressman and onetime punk rocker – born Robert O’Rourke but widely known by the nickname of “Beto” – shot to political stardom last year when he nearly toppled Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in reliably conservative Texas.


O’Rourke announced in mid-March that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House, and on Saturday he will host a trio of homecoming events, with rallies in Houston and Austin following his El Paso kickoff.

Supporters will be hosting “more than 1,000 watch parties across the country,” he said on social media, as the campaign seeks to signal his national appeal at a time when other candidates are enjoying bumps in their standing.

There are currently 16 Democrats in the running, including senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, as the opposition party gears up for an extended campaign to see who will challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.

Supporters of Democratic 2020 US presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke gather ahead of his kickoff rally on the streets of El Paso. (Reuters)
Supporters of Democratic 2020 US presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke gather ahead of his kickoff rally on the streets of El Paso. (Reuters)

The Democratic frontrunner, former vice president Joe Biden, is not even officially in the race, but he has topped the latest polls of 2020 contenders, with 29.2 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics average of the six latest surveys.

Sanders is second at 21.8 percent, followed by Harris at 9.8 and O’Rourke at 9.2.

The newest rising star of the pack is Pete Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a military veteran, who would be the youngest and the first openly gay president should he win.

O’Rourke is among the most unorthodox candidates. He has a thin political resume and has largely steered clear of being labeled liberal or moderate.

As the Democratic candidates tilt leftward this cycle, O’Rourke has hit on several progressive talking points.

He supports a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, backs marijuana legalization, and champions the Green New Deal, a sweeping climate change mitigation framework introduced by liberal Democrats.

During his six years in Congress, O’Rourke was more politically cautious, joining the House’s centrist coalition.

“I consider myself a capitalist,” O’Rourke said last week in Iowa, adding that many Americans suffer from what is “clearly an imperfect, unfair” system.

“There’s a lot more we’ve got to do to make sure this capitalism is just.”

On his first major campaign tour, which took him to eight states including New Hampshire, South Carolina and Ohio, he met people in coffee shops, school gyms and taquerias, offering a unifying vision packed with optimism but short on policy specifics.

“We need to not bring each other down, diminish one another, vilify and demonize and denigrate,” he said recently in Nevada.

“We must lift each other up, expect to find the absolute best in every single one of us. ‘No me importa’ if you are a Republican, a Democrat or independent,” he added, toggling between Spanish and English during his stump speeches.

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