Beto O’Rourke announces he’s running for president in 2020

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(CNN) — Beto O’Rourke announced Thursday he is running for president, entering the 2020 race with a call for Americans to look past their differences in order to confront the challenges facing the country.

“You’ll see us run the largest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen,” O’Rourke told reporters in Iowa, where he held his first campaign event at a coffee shop in Keokuk. “It’s the only way to win. It’s the only way to effectively govern.”

O’Rourke, who is starting a three-day swing through eastern Iowa, announced his entrance into the race with a video Thursday morning.

“This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us,” the 46-year-old Democratic former congressman from Texas said in the video. “The challenges that we face right now, the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater.”

“They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America,” he said.

O’Rourke said he will hold a kick-off rally for his campaign in El Paso, Texas, on March 30. His campaign headquarters will be in El Paso, he told CNN, because “it’s my hometown and it’s where I want to be.”

His entrance into the race is the culmination of his two-year, out-of-nowhere rise from a back-bench congressman largely unknown outside El Paso to Democratic stardom as a record-breaking fundraiser, the subject of an HBO documentary and the target of two separate efforts to draft him into the presidential campaign. He joins a crowded field of more than a dozen Democrats vying for the party’s nomination.

O’Rourke began his Iowa trip — which includes stops in eight counties that Barack Obama won in 2012 but Donald Trump won in 2016 — in the state’s rural southeastern corner, pledging to the crowds to listen to and address the concerns of those who believe they have been left behind in recent elections.

He said in Texas, farmers and others in rural areas face a lack of broadband internet access. “They can’t go on Tinder to find that special date tonight,” he said.

O’Rourke’s short stump speech focused on climate change and immigration. Drawing a comparison to refugees who are currently arriving at the Southern border, which he said he doesn’t view as a problem, he warned that climate upheaval would lead to a “crisis of a different magnitude altogether.”

Answering questions from the crowd, O’Rourke praised the ambitious Green New Deal proposal, saying he hasn’t “seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis we face — a crisis that could, at its worst, lead to extinction.”

He said he would end the federal prohibition of marijuana, pointing to incarceration rates and saying that those in prison “don’t look like people in this room. They are browner and blacker.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, he also answered questions about what sets him apart from the Democratic field of presidential candidates, who he said he will not criticize.

O’Rourke pointed to his life in a border community — Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, is visible from his porch — and the attention Trump has directed to the border.

“I have a profoundly positive story to tell that as a nation of immigrants, we should remind ourselves that our success, our strength and yes, our safety and security, depend on the fact that we are a city of immigrants in El Paso, a nation of immigrants across this country,” he said.

O’Rourke last year lost a Senate race in Texas, a bid to oust Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Still, the Senate race thrust O’Rourke, who served three terms in the House, into the national spotlight. He shattered fundraising records, ending with an $80 million haul, and finished less than 3 percentage points behind Cruz — much closer than other Democrats had come in recent years against Republicans in a state that’s long been a GOP stronghold. But a presidential bid will be a much different test for O’Rourke, who will face

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