Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke Joins Crowded Democratic Presidential Field

Mar 14, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After months of speculation - will he, or won't he? - former Texas Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke says he will run for president. O'Rourke made the announcement in a video released early this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

BETO O'ROURKE: We are truly now, more than ever, the last great hope of earth. At this moment of maximum peril and maximum potential, let's show ourselves and those who will succeed us in this great country just who we are and what we can do.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is here to talk about that announcement and how O'Rourke fits into the huge and still-growing field of Democratic candidates.

Hey, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: He did not waste any time. He's already in Iowa talking to voters, huh?

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. He's there. He's there for a three-day swing. And yeah. We heard in that video there that, also, he's trying to distinguish himself. And one way that he's trying to do that is through that tone. You may have noticed there that kind of epic, fight-for-our-existence, big, climactic scene of a movie hero's speech...

SHAPIRO: Yeah (laughter).

KURTZLEBEN: ...Thing he's doing there. And I mean, this really is a way that Beto O'Rourke distinguishes himself. He has this tone that's epic, but it's not grim. It's just aggressively positive. But aside from that, you know, there are a couple of issue areas that stood out today. One is immigration. Here's one thing he said in that announcement video.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

O'ROURKE: And all of us, wherever you live, can acknowledge that if immigration is a problem, it's the best possible problem for this country to have.

KURTZLEBEN: That's a strong statement. That's a definitive statement. And it also neatly manages to evoke President Trump and counter him without actually naming him. Now, one more thing is climate change. He mentioned that in this video and in the speech he gave in Keokuk, Iowa, today. Now, that's an issue that - I've been out on the campaign trail. It gets young voters very excited and very concerned. And today in Iowa, he praised the Green New Deal pretty strongly. And that's a policy that really energizes those young voters.

SHAPIRO: Beto O'Rourke has had more media coverage than many of the people in the Democratic field. But...

KURTZLEBEN: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...For those who have been under a rock for the last year...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: ...Remind us where he comes from and who he is.

O'ROURKE: Sure. So he comes from El Paso, Texas. He served on the city council there before becoming the congressman for that district in 2013. But yeah, a lot of our listeners probably first heard of him last year. He ran against Ted Cruz for that Senate seat, and he came within 3 points of defeating Ted Cruz. So that closeness kind of implicit in his run for the presidency for Beto O'Rourke is that closeness with Cruz - that he, you know, almost toppled this conservative giant in this really red state. Now, aside from that, a lot of people probably saw him on social media. He really drew this really devoted following for seeming really authentic, having this youthful energy and having these, you know, Facebook Live videos of his road trips and that sort of thing.

SHAPIRO: You've talked about the issues that he mentioned in his rollout. How does he compare to the other Democrats who have already announced that they're running?

KURTZLEBEN: I mean, based on a few of the things he has said and his House record, it's pretty safe to say that Beto O'Rourke is not in that far-progressive lane of this field with people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. For example, today in Iowa, he has been talking about Medicare for America. Now, that is not Medicare for All.

SHAPIRO: Right.

KURTZLEBEN: That is single-payer health care. Medicare for America is a plan in Congress that would create a public option where you could buy into Medicare but you could also keep your employer coverage. So it's not as progressive as quite a few of the people in this primary. Now, there are still some open questions about Beto O'Rourke's stances. He's a new candidate. And as voters press him, you can bet that he's going to have to get more specific on a lot of this.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly - you said he's got this three-day swing through Iowa, then what?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, I mean, it's pretty standard fare for a new candidate. He's doing the swing through Iowa. And aside from that, he has his kickoff rally scheduled at El Paso at the end of the month. So he's really doing what a lot of new candidates do.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thanks a lot.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.