Following months of intense speculation, Democrat Beto O’Rourke told El Paso television station KTSM via text Wednesday that he is running for president in 2020, the station reported.
O’Rourke gained national attention in 2018, when he challenged U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. He campaigned relentlessly, visiting all of the state’s 254 counties, and shattered Senate campaign fundraising records while building an army of small-dollar donors and eschewing PAC money.
The El Paso station said he will publicly announce his presidential bid Thursday morning. O’Rourke and his advisers did not immediately respond to messages seeking confirmation of the KTSM report.
O’Rourke did not beat Cruz but beat expectations, losing by less than 3 percentage points. And with O’Rourke at the top of the ticket in Texas, Democrats made significant gains down ballot in 2018, picking up two seats in Congress, two in the state Senate and a dozen in the Texas House.
Even before the Senate election, O’Rourke was discussed as a potential presidential candidate. During the race, he had promised not to run in 2020 but reversed himself shortly after the election, touching off months of intense speculation about his plans.
As he mulled a White House bid, two separate “Draft Beto” groups popped up and got to work laying a foundation for him in the early voting states. Looking to shake a post-election funk, O’Rourke took a solo road trip outside Texas, stopping in small towns across the Southwest and blogging at length about his experiences. He re-emerged in early February when he went to New York City for an interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey — and revealed that he expected to decide on his plans for 2020 by the end of the month.
After the Oprah interview, O’Rourke continued to stoke 2020 speculation, leading a counter-rally when President Donald Trump visited El Paso in early February to make the case for his long-sought border wall.
Speaking to a cheering crowd of thousands, O’Rourke argued that barriers force immigrants to cross into the U.S. in more remote, dangerous stretches of the border.
“We know that walls do not save lives,” O’Rourke said. “Walls end lives.”
Around the same time, O’Rourke made another trip outside Texas, visiting Wisconsin and Illinois.
“I came here with not much of an agenda other than to listen to you,” O’Rourke told college students in Madison, according to media reports.
With his end-of-month deadline looming, O’Rourke continued to keep his options open. At an event in mid-February where he was named El Pasoan of the Year, he did not rule out taking a different path in 2020, such as running against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
But then on Feb. 27, O’Rourke revealed he was passing on another run for U.S. Senate and teased that more news was forthcoming.
“I’m not going to give a date certain but hope to be able to say something pretty soon,” he told The Texas Tribune. “I want to announce to everyone at the same time.”
It has been a remarkable rise for O’Rourke, who was little-known statewide — let alone nationally — prior to his Senate run. Even his 2018 campaign largely flew under the radar for over a year until late summer 2018, when a video went viral of him defending NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
O’Rourke first won election to Congress in 2012, when he unseated U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, in a primary upset. Before that, O’Rourke served for six years on the El Paso City Council.
O’Rourke has come to overshadow other Texas Democrats long regarded as rising stars — including a fellow 2020 presidential candidate, Julián Castro. The former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor launched his campaign in mid-January.
O’Rourke is set to visit the crucial early voting state of Iowa this weekend to campaign for Eric Giddens, the Democratic candidate in a special election for an Iowa Senate seat. O’Rourke will visit the city of Waterloo on Saturday to kick off an “afternoon of canvassing, GOTV, and grassroots organizing” for Giddens, according to O’Rourke’s team.