BURLINGTON, Iowa — Democrat Beto O’Rourke jumped into the 2020 presidential race Thursday, shaking up the already packed field and pledging to win over voters from across the political spectrum as he tries to translate his sudden celebrity into a formidable White House bid.
The former Texas congressman began his campaign by taking his first ever trip to Iowa, the state that kicks off the presidential primary voting. In tiny Burlington, in southeast Iowa, he scaled a counter to be heard during an afternoon stop at a coffee shop.
“Let us not allow our differences to define us as at this moment,” O’Rourke told a whooping crowd of 120, his heels perched at the countertop’s edge. “History calls for us to come together.”
Earlier in the day, O’Rourke popped into a coffee shop in Keokuk while many cable networks aired live coverage. He took questions about his support of federal legalization of marijuana as well as the possibility of a universal basic income, all while characteristically waving his arms and gesticulating fervently.
“I could care less about your party persuasion,” O’Rourke said.
It was the kind of high-energy, off-the-cuff style that made him a sensation in Texas and a monster fundraiser nationwide, but O’Rourke also was clear that he doesn’t believe in strict immigration rules — drawing a distinction that could allow him to clash openly with President Donald Trump on the issue.
Trump took more note of O’Rourke’s gyrations than his policy plans.
“Well, I think he’s got a lot of hand movement,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “Is he crazy or is that just how he acts?”
After weeks of gleefully teasing an announcement, O’Rourke now must prove whether his zeal for personal contact with voters will resonate beyond Texas.