It’s of­fi­cial: O’Rourke’s run­ning

For­mer El Paso rep an­nounces White House ef­fort on so­cial me­dia

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Diaz

WASH­ING­TON — Beto O’Rourke, the up­start Texas Demo­crat who seized the na­tion’s at­ten­tion in an au­da­ciously close Se­nate run against con­ser­va­tive icon Ted Cruz, an­nounced Thurs­day that he’ll jump into the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race.

Reignit­ing the so­cial me­dia swirl of his 2018 Se­nate cam­paign, the for­mer con­gress­man from El Paso launched his run in a video on Face­book, Twit­ter and other dig­i­tal plat­forms, set­ting up a se­ries of week­end events in the first-in-the-na­tion cau­cus state of Iowa.

“This is a defin­ing mo­ment of truth for this coun­try and for ev­ery sin­gle one of us,” O’Rourke said in the early morn­ing video, sit­ting be­side his wife, Amy, in a

liv­ing room in El Paso. “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.”

The long-an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment

adds O’Rourke to a crowded field of Democrats vy­ing to take on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

O’Rourke re­peat­edly has clashed with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies on bor­der se­cu­rity, asy­lum and im­mi­gra­tion.

Run­ning on his iden­tity as a life­long res­i­dent of Texas’ heav­ily His­panic bor­der re­gion, O’Rourke could be a lead­ing Demo­cratic voice on im­mi­gra­tion, an is­sue Trump made the cen­ter­piece of his 2016 cam­paign with his prom­ise to build a wall span­ning the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico.

No is­sue de­fines O’Rourke more than his pas­sion­ate op­po­si­tion to Trump’s pur­suit of wall fund­ing, which con­tin­ues to be the cen­tral di­vide be­tween the White House and Demo­cratic lead­ers in Congress.

O’Rourke’s de­ci­sion to run for pres­i­dent — one the 46-year-old fa­ther of three ag­o­nized over for months — could re­shape the Demo­cratic pri­mary con­test as well as the 2020 Se­nate race in Texas.

He had been viewed as the most po­tent threat to three-term Repub­li­can in­cum­bent John Cornyn.

Cornyn, por­tray­ing O’Rourke as an acolyte of Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Chuck Schumer, had be­gun fundrais­ing on the specter of an O’Rourke chal­lenge, launch­ing a “Stop Beto fund.”

O’Rourke’s more im­me­di­ate chal­lenge will be set­ting him­self apart from a left-lean­ing field of Democrats — in­clud­ing Demo­cratic So­cial­ist Bernie Sanders — who’ve been rais­ing money and cam­paign­ing for weeks in the early vot­ing states of Iowa, New Hamp­shire and South Carolina.

In con­trast, O’Rourke has drawn wide­spread at­ten­tion for a solo road trip out West, which was var­i­ously praised as an au­then­tic quest for per­sonal dis­cov­ery and ridiculed as an ex­er­cise in priv­i­lege and self-in­dul­gence.

As he did in his sur­pris­ingly close loss to Cruz, O’Rourke sig­naled that the fuel for his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign will be grass­roots or­ga­niz­ing, small-dol­lar do­na­tions, so­cial me­dia savvy, and a per­sonal charisma that sup­port­ers liken to that of the late Bobby Ken­nedy or for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“This is go­ing to be a pos­i­tive cam­paign,” O’Rourke said, promis­ing to re­vive a cam­paign spirit “that seeks to unite a very di­vided coun­try.”

In a nod to his Se­nate cam­paign, he added: “We saw the power of this in Texas.”

He will start with a vast on­line fol­low­ing of sup­port­ers who con­trib­uted a record $80 mil­lion to his ef­fort to top­ple Cruz.

But un­like in his Se­nate cam­paign — high­lighted by ap­pear­ances with Texas mu­sic leg­end Wil­lie Nel­son — O’Rourke will face a Demo­cratic pri­mary elec­torate di­vided be­tween more than a dozen con­tenders, many with their own claims on ac­tivists’ af­fec­tions.

Many still are await­ing the de­ci­sion of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, who in­stantly could be con­sid­ered the Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner.

While the list of con­tenders grows, some an­a­lysts see O’Rourke as a unique po­lit­i­cal fig­ure from the Amer­i­can West who could broaden the tra­di­tional Demo­cratic coali­tion.

“The num­ber of peo­ple in­ter­ested and pre­pared to be ac­tive in the Demo­cratic pri­mary ex­pands,” said Demo­cratic strate­gist Matt An­gle of the Lone Star Project, a Texas po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee. “He’s one of those peo­ple who cre­ates in­ter­est in pol­i­tics and pub­lic pol­icy in peo­ple who oth­er­wise are just watch­ing.”

O’Rourke also would be one of the youngest hope­fuls in the Demo­cratic pri­maries, part of a “Gen­er­a­tion X” co­hort that came of age after Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan and en­tered adult­hood un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, the first Baby Boomer pres­i­dent.

O’Rourke’s back­ers are fo­cus­ing on mil­len­ni­als and other young vot­ers.

“We’re in­vest­ing heav­ily in stu­dents be­cause they make up such a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of Beto’s base, and turn­ing them out in 2020 will be es­sen­tial in both the pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tions,” said Nate Lerner, co-founder of DraftBeto.org, one of two na­tional groups that had been en­cour­ag­ing O’Rourke to run.

A for­mer punk band gui­tarist and tech com­pany founder, O’Rourke has blended youth­ful ide­al­ism with an en­tre­pre­neur­ial streak and an ar­dent com­mit­ment to the bi-cul­tural her­itage of his home town, which is 80 per­cent Latino.

A flu­ent Span­ish speaker, O’Rourke made El Paso’s close re­la­tion­ship with Ci­u­dad Juarez, Mex­ico, a ma­jor theme of his Se­nate cam­paign, which cel­e­brated im­mi­gra­tion as cul­tural and eco­nomic as­set for Texas and the na­tion.

“If im­mi­gra­tion is a prob­lem,” O’Rourke said in his an­nounce­ment, “it is the best pos­si­ble prob­lem for this na­tion to have.”

Cruz and other GOP crit­ics dis­missed his sunny vi­sion as vague and “too lib­eral for Texas.” Cruz at­tacked O’Rourke for de­fend­ing NFL play­ers who knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them and for say­ing he was open to abol­ish­ing the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency, a state­ment from which O’Rourke ul­ti­mately re­treated.

But amid the at­tacks, “Be­to­ma­nia” spread on so­cial me­dia from Texas to both coasts, along with the ac­com­pa­ny­ing cam­paign cash and email lists, the lifeblood of 21st cen­tury po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

“The pre­cur­sor of get­ting an on­line do­na­tion is hav­ing email ad­dresses and hav­ing a pre­vi­ous on­line re­la­tion­ship with those peo­ple,” said Texas Demo­cratic strate­gist Colin Strother. “Beto has that to the tune of close to $100 mil­lion.”

Al­though Trump branded him a loser for his de­feat at Cruz’s hands, O’Rourke en­er­gized Democrats na­tion­wide with a cam­paign that brought them closer to a statewide vic­tory in the Lone Star State than any Demo­crat had in a gen­er­a­tion.

“How many can­di­dates run­ning are truly in­spir­ing?” asked Ed Espinoza, who runs the left­lean­ing group Progress Texas. “Where is the Obama, the Howard Dean, the Bill Clin­ton of this race? There’s room for some­body who re­ally in­spires peo­ple. He re­ally brings that to this race.”

The Demo­cratic base will have to take the mea­sure of O’Rourke against Sens. Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia and El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mass­a­chu­setts, two lead­ing con­tenders who, along with Sanders, have shown en­ergy, drive and pas­sion.

O’Rourke’s en­try in the race also could el­e­vate the stakes in the Texas Demo­cratic pri­maries, where he and for­mer San An­to­nio Mayor and HUD Sec­re­tary Ju­lian Castro could vie for na­tive son sta­tus.

O’Rourke’s cam­paign style is

un­con­ven­tional: Repu­di­at­ing con­sul­tants, poll­sters and PAC money, he re­lies on “show­ing up,” spread­ing his mes­sage via so­cial me­dia, word-of-mouth and grass­roots en­ergy.

“He’s a real per­son,” Strother said. “He’s not a cookie-cut­ter can­di­date. He speaks off-the-cuff and from the heart. There­fore, he doesn’t al­ways say ev­ery­thing per­fectly.”

But even some sym­pa­thetic strate­gists have ques­tioned whether he can suc­ceed with that ap­proach on a na­tional scale.

In some re­spects, O’Rourke’s sig­na­ture op­po­si­tion to a bor­der wall — he even has talked about tak­ing down some bar­ri­ers around El Paso — could po­si­tion him as the Demo­crat who presents the stark­est con­trast to Trump.

Wher­ever the fight is joined, O’Rourke will be ex­pected to be Trump’s an­tithe­sis in style and sub­stance.

“This mo­ment of peril,” O’Rourke said in his video Thurs­day, “pro­duces per­haps the great­est mo­ment of prom­ise for this coun­try and for ev­ery­one in­side it.’’

Asked his re­ac­tion to O’Rourke’s an­nounce­ment, Trump 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?’”

Trump said he’s ready to take on any Demo­cratic can­di­date: “Who­ever it is, it makes no dif­fer­ence to me what­so­ever.”

Todd Heisler / New York Times

Texan Beto O’Rourke cam­paigns at the Bean Counter in Burling­ton, Iowa. His de­ci­sion to run for pres­i­dent could re­shape the Demo­cratic pri­mary con­test.

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