By Sara Kamouni, AFP /Washington
Beto O’Rourke, a skateboarding former punk rocker feted as one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, yesterday announced he is running for president — joining a crowded field of candidates vying to challenge US President Donald Trump in 2020.
“The only way for us to live up to the promise of America is to give it our all and to give it for all of us,” O’Rourke, 46, said in a video, filmed alongside his wife in their El Paso, Texas home.
O’Rourke has been discussed as a potential frontrunner since dazzling the grassroots during an unexpectedly tight race last year to unseat Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Early yesterday, he was already taking questions from voters in Keokuk, Iowa — following in the footsteps of other Democrats keen to raise their profiles in the state that will vote before any other in the 2020 primary process.
The president’s first reaction to the latest pretender to the Oval Office was typically Trumpian — a playful but dismissive takedown of his new rival’s delivery style.
“I think he’s got a lot of hand movement…I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’” grinned Trump, whose own oratory quirks — including effusive hand gestures — have been fodder for political impressionists.
O’Rourke, on the other hand, has vowed to run a positive campaign that would seek to “bring out the very best from every single one of us” and unite a country riven by political, social and cultural fissures.
“Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment,” he told Vanity Fair in this month’s cover story.
Published online hours before his official announcement, it features a spread by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz with images of O’Rourke at home with family relaxing, making pancakes, playing music and posing against the desolate Texan landscape.
O’Rourke has entered a large field of other Democrats seeking to oust Trump.
They include several US senators — Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and liberal powerhouse Bernie Sanders.
Former vice president Joe Biden has said he will reveal his political plans soon.
To one Iowan’s question on running alongside so many other Democrats, O’Rourke said it was “critically important that we not denigrate, demean any other candidate.”
“Any single Democrat running today…would be far better than the current occupant of the White House,” he said to applause.
O’Rourke, once a bassist in the moderately successful El Paso band Foss, has been tipped to quickly achieve rockstar status.
But with that will come with intensifying scrutiny.
As a three-term congressman, O’Rourke was politically cautious, joining the House’s centrist, pro-business New Democrat Coalition.
But in his Senate run, he ran an unconventional campaign, espousing progressive positions on topics such as immigration.
His native El Paso, which borders Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, was recently visited by Trump for a rally filled with dire warnings about Mexican criminals and calls for bigger and longer border walls.
“All of us, wherever you live, can acknowledge that if immigration is a problem it’s the best possible problem for this country to have,” O’Rourke insisted in yesterday’s announcement video.
In Iowa, he touched upon several progressive hot topics — from universal health care and a $15 minimum wage to cannabis legalisation and women’s reproductive rights.
Some of his strongest statements came on climate change and the Green New Deal touted by the left of the Democratic party.
“I haven’t seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis we face, a crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction,” he said of the proposal to de-carbonize the US economy while offering universal healthcare and guaranteed employment.
“Not to be dramatic, but the future of the world depends on us right now here where we are,” he said.
O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign was time-consuming and he signalled that he felt disconnected from family — casting doubt on a possible presidential run.
But it also showed a candidate appearing to enjoy himself.
He could be seen skateboarding between events.
He jammed onstage with country music legend Willie Nelson, and pledged to “listen to everyone, regardless of the differences.”
In a new documentary on his improbable Senate campaign, ‘Running with Beto’, O’Rourke offered sage advice for candidates like himself: “Run like there’s nothing to lose.”