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O’Rourke gets early backing from former colleagues in Congress

Texas Democrat hits the campaign trail at Keokuk, Iowa, coffee shop

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke runs onto the stage at a campaign rally during his Senate race last year at the Gaslight Baker Theatre in Lockhart, Tezas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke runs onto the stage at a campaign rally during his Senate race last year at the Gaslight Baker Theatre in Lockhart, Tezas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke gave a speech and took questions from supporters for the first time as a presidential candidate on Thursday in Keokuk, Iowa.

The 46-year-old Democrat spoke to supporters at a coffee shop just hours after he announced that he is seeking the party’s presidential nomination. His White House bid brings the number of Democrats running for the party’s nomination to a baker’s dozen.

Before he was done speaking on Thursday morning, O’Rourke had already gained at least one lawmaker endorsement. And several more trickled in by afternoon.

The former three-term congressman announced he would forgo another shot at the Senate earlier this month, and an announcement that he would join the crowded presidential primary field was expected.

New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice threw her support behind O’Rourke, saying he “has the courage of his convictions and a bold vision for our future.”

He picked up a second endorsement from a New Yorker, Thursday when Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney threw his support behind O’Rourke. 

It’s notable that two in the New York delegation have endorsed O’Rourke, while it appears that none have thrown support behind their Empire State colleague Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

Maloney said in a statement that he used to take early morning runs with O’Rourke when they were in Congress together and during their time in the house, he “grew to know and love him and his family.”

“He has a heart the size of Texas, real experience, and a vision of that strong, united and youthful America that once led the world — and that can again inspire and motivate millions,” Maloney said. “That’s why I’m proud to endorse him.”

O’Rourke also picked up an endorsement from Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, said in a Thursday afternoon tweet that the Democratic Party “will benefit from his ideas, energy and pragmatism.”

Sen. Kamala Harris of California sent out a fundraising email attempting to raise money off his announcement.

“I look forward to engaging in substantive debates with each of these candidates — including the newest to join the race today, Beto O’Rourke — and ultimately selecting a Democratic nominee who will take on and beat Donald Trump in November 2020,” part of the email read. 

O’Rourke enters the crowded Democratic race polling in the middle of the pack. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has said he is close to making a decision on whether to run, is seen as the front-runner.

In Real Clear Politics’ average of polls, Biden leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 29 percent to 22 percent. O’Rourke averages 5.5 percent among early primary polls, behind Harris and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.

O’Rourke polled at about 11 percent among likely Iowa caucus goers in a December Des Moines Register/CNN poll, but support had fallen to about 5 percent in a similar poll earlier this month.

In Keokuk, O’Rourke said the event, where he took many questions from the audience, is an example of how he will campaign for the presidency.

“There’s no sense in campaigning if you already know every single answer, if you’re not willing to listen to those whom you wish to serve, and that’s what brought me here, along with hopefully, a cup of coffee,” he said to laughter and applause from the audience.

O’Rourke gave answers to questions on improving teacher pay, improving economic outcomes for the next generation, reversing climate change,
guaranteeing Americans “high-quality” health care and expressed worry that the U.S. could soon be a democracy in “name only.”

“These challenges,” O’Rourke told the crowd. “I am absolutely convinced, will bring out the absolute best in every single one of us.”

O’Rourke invigorated Democrats in the Texas and across the country during his bid for Senate, raising an unprecedented $80 million but fell short against Sen. Ted Cruz by about 3 percentage points.

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023