Democrat Beto O’Rourke jumped into the 2020 presidential race Thursday, shaking up the already packed field and pledging to win over voters from across the political spectrum as he tries to translate his sudden celebrity into a formidable White House bid.
The former Texas congressman began his campaign by taking his first ever trip to Iowa, the state that kicks off the presidential primary voting. In tiny Burlington, in southeast Iowa, he scaled a counter to be heard during an afternoon stop at a coffee shop.
“Let us not allow our differences to define us as at this moment,” O’Rourke told a whooping crowd, his heels perched at the countertop’s edge. “History calls for us to come together.”
Earlier in the day, O’Rourke popped into a coffee shop in Keokuk while many cable networks aired live coverage. He took questions about his support of federal legalization of marijuana as well as the possibility of a universal basic income, all while characteristically waving his arms and gesticulating fervently.
“I could care less about your party persuasion,” O’Rourke said.
It was the kind of high-energy, off-the-cuff style that made him a sensation in Texas and a monster fundraiser nationwide, but O’Rourke also was clear that he doesn’t believe in strict immigration rules — drawing a distinction that could allow him to clash openly with President Donald Trump on the issue.
Asked in Burlington how he’d contrast himself with other presidential hopefuls, O’Rourke said that he wasn’t sure but that he’d never been afraid to work with congressional Republicans. That may not be enough for Democrats anxious to angrily oppose Trump, however, and some other White House candidates draw shaper contrasts.
“The reason why I think I’m the best candidate for the presidency is very different than his,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said of O’Rourke on Thursday. “I think we need a leader who’s going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as you’d fight for your own.”