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Beto O’Rourke joins Democratic primary field

By Belinda Robinson | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-15 23:16

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke speaks during a campaign stop at The Beancounter Coffeehouse & Drinkery in Burlington, Iowa, on Thursday. [Photo/Agencies]

Beto O’Rourke, the ex-Texas congressman and punk rock band guitarist who failed in a bid for the US Senate last year but raised himself to celebrity status with his campaign, is joining the crowded Democratic field for the party’s presidential nomination.

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, 46, announced on Thursday in a video on social media that he would run “the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen”.

“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,” he said. He described it as a “defining moment of truth for this country and every single one of us”.

O’Rourke narrowly lost to Ted Cruz in the Senate Texas race but he gained national attention by using social media to galvanize support, raised a historic amount of money and even skateboarded into raucous rallies.

All of that put a national media spotlight on O’Rourke, a former guitarist in an El Paso punk rock band, and made him a minor celebrity.

But he still has to prove he can be presidential, Capri Cafaro, a former Democratic member of the Ohio state Senate from 2007 to 2016 and an executive in residence at the American University School of Public Affairs, told China Daily.

“Beto O’Rourke does somewhat stand out. He does have national appeal and a bit of rockstar status. But he needs to prove to people that he has the gravitas to actually execute being president of the United States,” Cafaro said.

“He had some missteps, like not having enough detail or policy scope around things like the border [in Texas]. He needs to show that he is more than just a charismatic figure and that he actually has the substance to deliver. That first and foremost is going to be his challenge.”

O’Rourke is the 15th Democrat to throw his hat into the ring in a bid to oust Donald Trump from the White House. The other contenders include senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard. Others running are John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson.

The two frontrunners in early polls are Sanders, 77, and former vice-president Joe Biden, 76, who has not yet announced he’s running. Yet the prospect of a Biden-O’Rourke ticket is “concerning Republicans the most”, Cafaro said.

“A Biden-Beto ticket has the opportunity to connect with Main Street Democrats in states that Trump won in 2016, like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If you have the gravitas of Joe Biden paired with the enthusiasm and youth of Beto O’Rourke, that balance presents the biggest and most credible threat to Trump and the Republicans in 2020.”

The Republican Party has criticized O’Rourke for having few legislative accomplishments after three terms in the House, and no signature message.

Jessica Proud, a spokesman for the New York Republican Party, told China Daily: “O’Rourke has no record [of achievement]. His list of accomplishments is thinner than his fluffy Vanity Fair profile. Even his home state of Texas rejected him in the Senate race. There is no reason to believe that the country won’t do the same.”

O’Rourke, an Irish American, made his announcement alongside his wife in an informal campaign video released on Thursday.

When asked later who he considered a more viable challenger, Biden or O’Rourke, Trump said: “I just say, whoever it is, I’ll take them on,” he said.

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