As pace picks up, O’Rourke waits to make fi­nal de­ci­sion

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Will Weis­sert Will Weis­sert is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

AUSTIN, Texas — You won’t see Beto O’Rourke an­nounce whether he’s run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2020 for a while. But you may see him do al­most any­thing else in the mean­time.

“So, I’m here at the den­tist,” the for­mer Demo­crat con­gress­man said with a gig­gle dur­ing a teeth-clean­ing seen live on In­sta­gram last week, be­fore quizzing the hy­gien­ist about life along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

Any­one grum­bling about live-stream over­ex­po­sure can catch O’Rourke on more tra­di­tional air­waves next month in New York when Oprah Win­frey in­ter­views him.

O’Rourke barged into last year’s Se­nate race al­most laugh­ably early, in March 2017, in­sist­ing he was a cred­i­ble con­tender against the in­cum­bent, Repub­li­can Ted Cruz, when al­most no one na­tion­ally knew of O’Rourke.

Now he’s do­ing al­most any­thing to keep peo­ple pay­ing at­ten­tion to him with­out for­mally start­ing a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign for 2020. He’s not ex­pected to de­cide un­til next month at the ear­li­est whether he’s run­ning.

In­flu­en­tial ac­tivists in Iowa and else­where are clam­or­ing for him to get in the race while some po­ten­tial ri­vals move their time­lines ear­lier. So far, in­ter­est in O’Rourke has held af­ter his near upset of Cruz, but for how much longer?

“They’re not go­ing to wait for­ever,” Mark Jones, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Rice Univer­sity in Hous­ton, said of Demo­cratic cam­paign op­er­a­tives, donors, ac­tivists and fel­low politi­cians look­ing to pick sides or of­fer en­dorse­ments. “The more can­di­dates who start to for­mally launch their can­di­da­cies, the greater the pres­sure will rise on Beto.”

Sen. El­iz­abeth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts an­nounced on New Year’s Eve that she’d formed a pres­i­den­tial ex­ploratory com­mit­tee, hop­ing to get an early jump on such other Democrats as O’Rourke, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Sens. Corey Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont and Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia.

Julián Cas­tro, hous­ing chief un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, kicked off his cam­paign Satur­day and could ap­peal to the same Latino com­mu­nity that O’Rourke may count on as a bilin­gual na­tive of the bor­der­land city of El Paso.

“My feel­ing is he’s lost a lit­tle mo­men­tum, and that’s the down­side of be­ing a me­dia prod­uct,” said Nor­man Solomon, a Sanders del­e­gate to the 2016 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion from Cal­i­for­nia.

That any­one would ask if O’Rourke is wait­ing too long with the elec­tion 22 months away is un­usual. But anger over Pres­i­dent Trump has cre­ated an out­size Demo­cratic ap­petite to go on the po­lit­i­cal at­tack.

Work­ing in O’Rourke’s fa­vor is a lack of a per­ceived 2020 “heir-ap­par­ent” can­di­date who can draw in donors and top op­er­a­tives.

Eric Gay / As­so­ci­ated Press 2018

Beto O’Rourke greets vot­ers at the polls in El Paso, Texas, in Novem­ber. He lost his bid to un­seat Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz.

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