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Democrat Beto O’Rourke kicks off his presidential campaign with rally in El Paso
O’Rourke says the powerful have “corrupted democracy” at the expense of the powerless
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
EL PASO (CFP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke formally kicked off his 2020 president campaign with a speech to a hometown crowd in El Paso in which he called on Americans to show more compassion toward immigrants and take on an “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power” that he said has “corrupted our democracy.”
“This is our moment of truth, and we cannot be found wanting,” O’Rourke told supporters who crowded into a downtown street for the March 30 event. “The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes.”
Among the challenges he cited were income inequality, access to health care and climate change. A recurring theme in O’Rourke’s speech was a call to take on powerful, wealthy interests, although he did not specify who those interests were or offer specifics of what he would do to counter them.
“For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless,” he said. “Unrestrained money and influence has warped the priorities of this county. It has corrupted our democracy. It has invited the cynicism and distrust and disengagement of millions of are fellow Americans who see their very own government enthralled to those to can pay for access and for outcomes.”
In his extemporaneous speech, O’Rourke barely mentioned the man he hopes to displace, President Donald Trump, other than to accuse the president of sowing “fear and division.”
But O’Rourke, who represented a congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border for six years, drew a sharp distinction with Trump on the issue of immigration, saying immigrants and asylum seekers “are our fellow human beings who deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings.”
“We will find security not through walls, not through militarization. We will find security by focusing on our ports of entry that connect us to the rest of the world so we have a better idea of who and what is coming here,” O’Rouke said.
He also called for legal protection for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents and creating a pathway to citizenship “to bring millions more out of the shadows and on to a path to contribute their maximum potential to the success of this country.”
O’Rouke had announced his White House run via video in mid-March and made a series of appearances in the key early caucus state of Iowa. Saturday’s rally in El Paso, followed by similar rallies in Houston and Austin, marked the formal start of his campaign.
O’Rourke, 46 — whose given name is Robert but who goes by a childhood Spanish nickname, Beto — served three terms in the U.S. House representing metro El Paso before launching a campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2017.
Given little chance when the race began, O’Rourke’s campaign caught the imagination of liberal activists around the country, allowing him to raise more than $80 million and put what had been considered a safe seat in jeopardy.
In the end, Cruz won by 215,000 votes, but O’Rourke’s showing was the best by a Democrat in a Texas Senate race in 30 years. He decided to pass up the opportunity to take on Texas’s other Republican senator, John Cornyn, in 2020 in order to pursue a presidential bid.
After his initial announcement, O’Rourke raised more than $6 million in the first 24 hours. The quarterly reporting period for fundraising closed March 30, and O’Rourke is expected to lead the pack among Democratic 2020 contenders when fundraising figures are posted.
O’Rourke is the third Southern candidate to enter crowded 2020 Democratic field, following another Texan, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Richard Ojeda, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate from West Virginia.