Beto O’Rourke debuts in Iowa as he begins 2020 presidential campaign

Former U.S. Representative from Texas Beto O’Rourke routinely drew crowds of over 200 in several stops throughout Iowa during his first official campaign tour.

Emily Wangen, politics reporter

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Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke greets supporters before speaking at the home of John Murphy in Dubuque, Iowa on Sunday, March 16, 2019. The event was the final in a three-day trip to Iowa to launch O’Rourke’s bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.

Former-Congressman and candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Beto O’Rourke completed his first Iowa tour Saturday. Taking the wheel of a rented black Dodge Grand Caravan, this weekend was the first Iowa trip O’Rourke has made since announcing his bid for the White House on Thursday.

“This campaign is not about winning the Democratic nomination, it’s not about being the president of the United States,” O’Rourke said during a stop in Independence. “It’s about bringing this country together.”

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke leaves an event in Waterloo, Iowa on Sunday, March 16, 2019. O’Rourke drives a rented Dodge Carravan between campaign stops himself rather then having a staffer drive him.

O’Rourke rose to prominence during the 2018 midterm elections when he narrowly lost a race for a U.S. Senate seat to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. Cruz topped O’Rourke by 2.6 percent, or approximately 200,000 votes. 

On the campaign trail this weekend, he discussed his three top policy targets: immigration reform, expanding access to health care to everyone, and addressing climate change— making a point to bring up the three areas at each of his events.

Friday, he ended one of his first days on the trail in Cedar Rapids, where he appeared as a guest on the podcast Political Party Live.

Saturday, O’Rourke began the day running a 5k race in North Liberty before hitting the campaign trail. In Waterloo, O’Rourke canvassed for Democrat Eric Giddens who is running in a special election to fill a vacant state Senate seat. From there, he traveled to Independence, where he fielded questions on a variety of subjects from a gathering of people at the Independence Public Library. O’Rourke ended his day in Dubuque at a house party where an estimated 200 people gathered on multiple floors inside the home of Dubuque County Recorder John Murphy.

Julia Waits, a native of Texas currently residing in Iowa, said that while she wasn’t ready to put her full support behind O’Rourke, she was interested in what he had to say.

“Seeing how close he came to switching our state from historically red to blue was really inspiring and encouraging,” Waits said before O’Rourke’s event in Independence. “He already represents a lot of what I would like to see changed in the country.”

She said O’Rourke’s key to standing out among the now 16 candidates for the nomination will be his stance on issues.

“I feel like he represents kind of like a middle ground — a lot like Barack Obama when he was first running,” Waits said.

Murphy, the Dubuque County recorder said O’Rourke came across his radar when he said during his Senate campaign that he did not believe athletes kneeling during the National Anthem was disrespectful

“It really caught my attention then and I’ve watched him ever since,” Murphy said.

He added that what makes O’Rourke stand out amongst the pack of Democrats was that O’Rourke had caught “lightning in a bottle” during his run for the Senate — energy which could translate to support for a presidential run.

“There is not this same level of energy on any other campaign” Murphy said.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks with community members at Independence Public Library in Independence, Iowa on Sunday, March 16, 2019.

O’Rourke joins a crowded field of candidates looking to receive the Democratic nomination. Throughout the weekend, he said he saw this field as a positive.

“This moment is going to bring out the absolute best in us,” O’Rourke said on Friday evening.

While this is O’Rourke’s first visit to Iowa, it is not the first time potential O’Rourke supporters have gathered. In January, the group Draft Beto 2020 held two events in Iowa including an event in Iowa City’s Sanctuary Pub. The movement looked to build grassroots support for O’Rourke should he decide to run.

Co-founder of the group Will Herberich told The Daily Iowan in January that in a crowded field of Democrats vying for the nomination, he believes the organizing process needed to begin before he entered the race

O’Rourke, a native of El Paso, started his career in politics in 2005 when he ran for a seat on the El Paso City Council where he served two terms before running for the U.S. House of Representatives. During his six years in Congress he served on the House Veteran Affairs Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Committee on Homeland Security.