Oprah interview fuels talk of Beto O'Rourke's presidential ambitions
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Photo: Screen capture)

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic former Texas congressman whose unsuccessful campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz last year set fundraising records and generated buzz about a 2020 presidential bid, re-enters the political spotlight on Tuesday with a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The appearance at “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations from Times Square” in New York may intensify speculation about O’Rourke’s political plans, whether or not he announces during the taping a decision on seeking his party’s presidential nomination. The interview airs on Feb. 16 on Winfrey’s cable TV channel OWN.

O’Rourke’s strong performance in a losing cause in a Republican-leaning state last year has prompted two separate “Draft Beto” efforts led by Democratic consultants and supporters who tout the charismatic 46-year-old as the face of a new generation of party leaders.

DraftBeto.org co-founder Nate Lerner said he did not expect an announcement on Tuesday.

“What we’re hoping for is a bit more of a sign of where he’s at,” said Lerner, who runs Build the Wave, a Democratic political action committee that uses text messages to mobilize volunteers.

O’Rourke has kept a relatively low profile since his narrow loss in November. That is in sharp contrast to Democrats such as U.S. Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have launched bids to challenge Republican President Donald Trump and already are visiting the states where the first presidential nominating contests take place early next year.

Winfrey, the popular television personality and businesswoman who herself has drawn speculation about a 2020 campaign but thus far has declined to run, provides a major platform for O’Rourke.

Lerner said he understood some O’Rourke supporters are growing impatient for a decision.

“A year from now, nobody is going to care or remember when Beto O’Rourke announced,” he said. “The momentum you have in February 2019 is going to matter a lot less than the momentum you have in February 2020. Beto O’Rourke is a momentum machine.”

O’Rourke and his representatives could not be reached for comment on Tuesday ahead of the interview.

Winfrey has become a political force in her own right following her endorsement of former President Barack Obama in 2008. Last year, she campaigned for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost in November but is widely seen as a rising Democratic star.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Will Dunham