After months of intense speculation, Beto O’Rourke is entering the presidential race Thursday, marking an extraordinary rise from little-known El Paso congressman a few years ago to potentially formidable White House contender.
“Amy and I are happy to share with you that I’m running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America,” O’Rourke says in a video with his wife released Thursday morning. “This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us.”
O’Rourke is making the announcement ahead of a three-day trip to Iowa that begins Thursday afternoon. In the video, O’Rourke says he will travel the country before returning to El Paso on March 30 for a kickoff rally.
“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” O’Rourke says in the announcement. “We saw the power of this in Texas.”
O’Rourke became a national star last year as he challenged U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ultimately losing by a closer-than-expected margin. He campaigned relentlessly, visiting all of the state’s 254 counties, and shattered Senate campaignfundraising records while building an army of small-dollar donors and eschewing money from political action committees.
In recent weeks, it looked more and more clear that O’Rourke would ride the momentum from his blockbuster Senate run into his party’s crowded primary to take on President Donald Trump. It is a primary that already includes another Texan, Julián Castro.
O’Rourke finally confirmed his intentions Wednesday evening, telling the El Paso TV station KTSM in a text that he had decided to make a White House bid and would announce it Thursday morning.
“I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” O’Rourke reportedly texted the station. “It’s a big part of why I’m running. This city is the best example of this country at its best.”
In November, 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 himselfshortly after the election, touching off months of fervent speculation about his plans.
As he mulled a White House bid, two “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.”