Beto ORourke to join US presidential race

US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), candidate for US Senate greets supporters at a campaign rally in AustinImage copyright

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Robert “Beto” O’Rourke is a media-friendly rising star in the Democratic Party

The former Texas Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke has formally announced he is running for president in the 2020 election after months of speculation.

The Democratic rising star is joining in the race to take on Republican President Donald Trump next year.

Mr O’Rourke, 46, is the 15th Democrat to declare his bid for the White House.

In last year’s mid-term election, he ran a tight race against Republican Ted Cruz for his Senate seat, though it proved ultimately unsuccessful.

But he did better than any Democrat in Texas for decades, running a media-friendly campaign that energised the Democratic Party nationwide and drew comparisons with former President Barack Obama.

He joins a growing roster of people vying for the Democratic nomination – including senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg to name but a few.

Appearing alongside his wife in his campaign launch video, Mr O’Rourke said this was the “defining moment of truth for this country and every single one of us”.

He said the challenges on the economy, democracy and climate change “have never been greater. They will either consume us or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America”.

Rare political phenomenon

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

There’s something strange about an electoral defeat launching a presidential campaign. But 2020 is shaping up to be a strange election cycle.

Beto O’Rourke captured the imagination of Democrats across America with his energetic, yet ultimately unsuccessful, 2018 bid to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in Texas.

He became a social media star, packed rallies across the state and posted fundraising numbers more akin to a presidential contender than a Senate hopeful.

Now he is a presidential contender.

The former congressman from El Paso enters a crowded presidential field, but few of his competitors have matched Mr O’Rourke’s star power.

Bernie Sanders has his passionate devotees. Kalama Harris pulled 20,000 to her campaign kickoff in Oakland. But Mr O’Rourke has the potential to match them cheer for cheer.

Sensible journalists swoon. “Beto” attire has been spotted in Brooklyn coffee shops and on the head of basketball star Lebron James. Despite a paper-thin resume, Mr O’Rourke is a rare political phenomenon.

The late Texas writer Molly Ivins once observed that a successful presidential candidate has to have “a little Elvis in him”. Mr O’Rourke has Elvis in spades. Enough Elvis to open a Las Vegas casino.

Now Elvis is going on tour.

Who is Beto O’Rourke?

His first name is actually Robert, but is known by his nickname Beto – a common contraction of Roberto, which he picked up as a child in El Paso.

The former punk rock musician is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, who can draw huge crowds and funding.

A fluent Spanish speaker, the Texan politician with Irish roots broke Senate fundraising records by amassing more than $80 million (£62 million) over the course of his 2018 campaign.

He also travelled to all of Texas’s 254 counties in his Senate bid, documenting every moment of the journey on social media.

“I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” Mr O’Rourke said in a text message to local TV station KTSM.

“It’s a big part of why I’m running. This city is the best example for this country at its best.”

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Media captionRival rallies: President Trump v Democrat Beto O’Rourke in El Paso, Texas

Commentators have speculated for months that Mr O’Rourke would announce a bid for the presidency.

In December the Washington Post reported Mr O’Rourke met with Barack Obama while many of Mr Obama’s former aides are reportedly backing the Texan in 2020.

Mr O’Rourke, however, has until now kept silent, instead embarking on a road trip across the south-west US which he has documented in a blog.

“Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk,” the former congressman wrote. “Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what’s going on… I’ll clear my head”.

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Beto O’Rourke met Oprah Winfrey last month ahead of his nomination announcement

Several parody accounts appeared online mocking the posts. Even supporters questioned why Mr O’Rourke was on the road while others vying for the Democratic party’s nomination amassed staff and funding.

CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson described the journey as a “navel-gazing, self-involved, rollout of a possible rollout of a possible presidential campaign”.

“This is a luxury no woman or even minority in politics could ever have,” she wrote.

One conservative campaign group has already aired an advert attacking him for “white male privilege”.

But the premiere of a documentary about his Senate run, Running With Beto, at South by Southwest festival this month earned a standing ovation.

An email from his Senate campaign went out to supporters shortly after saying: “Many of us are crossing our fingers and hoping that Beto has decided to run.”