Democratic 2020 field taking shape with Beto O’Rourke entry
By JULIE PACE
AP Washington Bureau Chief
Friday, March 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — The contours of the Democratic presidential primary came into clearer focus this week with Texan Beto O’Rourke’s entry into the race — one of the final puzzle pieces in a contest that will be shaped by questions about race and gender, political ideology and generational change.
The sprawling Democratic field features candidates ranging from 37 to 77 years old; liberals and moderates; senators, governors and mayors; and an unprecedented number of women and minorities. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the only major contender still on the sidelines and has suggested he could remain there for several more weeks.
The field has been awaiting O’Rourke’s decision for months. He narrowly lost the Senate race in conservative Texas in November but became a political celebrity in the process, demonstrating an easy connection with voters and an eye-popping ability to raise money from small donors.
But the anticipation over O’Rourke, who served three terms in Congress, has rankled some in the party, who contend a woman or a minority would not be seen as a viable presidential candidate on the heels of a defeat.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an assumption of competence, an assumption of quality and a desire for him to run again, as a man,” said MJ Hegar, who lost a close congressional race in Texas in the fall. “A question for me, as a woman, is ‘Why did you lose?”
O’Rourke enters a race with no clear front-runner. Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have topped early polling, reflecting the reservoir of goodwill each has with a sizable share of the primary electorate but hardly guaranteeing either an easy path to the nomination.
With the first primary contest still 11 months away, huge uncertainties hang over the field. Among them: Which candidates can raise enough money to sustain a long and grueling campaign?
Sanders set the pace for grassroots donations, pulling in $6 million during his first day as a candidate, according to his campaign. In the final weeks of the first fundraising quarter of the year, many wealthy donors are waiting to make commitments.
“You really have to have a plan to stay alive,” said Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster who worked for Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns. “This is not just about having one demographic group. You’re going to have to have broad reach to stay alive.”
The debates, which begin in June, also loom as the first real test of how the candidates will draw contrasts with one another. Thus far, the Democrats have refrained from challenging one another in public, arguing that party unity will be crucial in the general election campaign against President Donald Trump.
“If you don’t end up being the nominee, let’s have none of this lingering acrimony after the nominee has been selected,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said Thursday. “Everybody needs to unify around the candidate because that’s where the strength of the Democratic Party is.”
It was notable that O’Rourke’s entry into the race was accompanied by a notable uptick in the kind of political shadowboxing the candidates have largely avoided, showing he has the attention of his competitors.
Just after O’Rourke announced his campaign Thursday morning, another Texan running for president, Julian Castro, released a list of endorsements from Democrats in the state. California Sen. Kamala Harris announced she plans to headline a rally in Texas later this month. And she sent a fundraising appeal that singled out O’Rourke by name and pointedly mentioned the “record number of women and people of color” running for the Democratic nomination.
O’Rourke, 46, said he knows that being a white man in a party eager to promote women and minorities may be a challenge.
“I totally understand people who will make a decision based on the fact that almost every single one of our presidents has been a white man, and they want something different for this country,” O’Rourke said in a Vanity Fair cover story published on the eve of his campaign announcement. “And I think that’s a very legitimate basis upon which to make a decision. Especially in the fact that there are some really great candidates out there right now.”
O’Rourke opened his campaign in Iowa. Several of his first stops were in counties that voted for Obama, but flipped to Trump in the 2016 election. He had four events scheduled for Friday.
Some Democrats welcomed O’Rourke’s entry into the race. He received a handful of endorsements from congressional colleagues, who praised his unifying message.
Jennifer Palmieri, a former adviser to Obama and Clinton, said the Texan’s raw talent would help raise the bar for the rest of the field.
“Good candidates make each other better, and it raises the level of competition,” Palmieri said.
With O’Rourke officially in the race, Biden is the only major player left to declare. A few long-shot candidates, most notably Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, may also still get in before the field is set.
Biden’s team has yet to formally hire any staff. But his advisers have been signaling to Democratic operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire that the former vice president is ready to make the leap, likely in early April. He’ll deliver a speech on Saturday before a friendly audience of Delaware Democrats.
“He wants to do it,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who is a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a Biden supporter. “He just wants to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i.”
Stacey Abrams, the popular Democrat who narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race in November, has also stoked speculation about a 2020 White House run. However, people close to Abrams say she is more likely to pursue a Senate campaign.
Abrams and Biden met privately Thursday in Washington.
Trump is closely monitoring the Democratic primary, including O’Rourke’s announcement. He jabbed at O’Rourke’s animated speaking style, saying, “He’s got a lot of hand movement. Is he crazy or is that just how he acts?” and predicted victory over the eventual Democratic nominee.
“Whoever it is, I’ll take him or her on,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Juana Summers and Elana Schor in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
O’Rourke begins 2020 bid with big crowds, centrist message
By WILL WEISSERT and ALEXANDRA JAFFE
Friday, March 15
BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) — 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, 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. He hasn’t demonstrated much skill in domestic or foreign policy, and as a white man, he’s entering a field that has been celebrated for its diverse roster of women and people of color.
Asked in Burlington how he’d contrast himself with other presidential hopefuls, O’Rourke said that he wasn’t sure but that he’d never been afraid to work with congressional Republicans. That may not be enough for Democrats anxious to angrily oppose Trump, however, and some other White House candidates draw shaper contrasts.
“The reason why I think I’m the best candidate for the presidency is very different than his,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said of O’Rourke on Thursday. “I think we need a leader who’s going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as you’d fight for your own.”
In an email to supporters, California Sen. Kamala Harris noted that a “record number of women and people of color” are running and added that she was looking forward to “substantive debates” with candidates including O’Rourke. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also sent a fundraising email, saying, “I’m sure you’ve seen” O’Rourke’s launch.
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, O’Rourke said he was “just born to be in” the presidential race. Asked about that after a Washington conference, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker noted that he is dedicated to working with “communities that are really being left out and left behind.”
“I’ve got decades of showing people where my heart is, where my dedication is,” Booker said.
Still, he picked up several congressional endorsements on Thursday, as well as the backing of Iowa state Rep. Brian Meyer, who serves as an assistant minority leader in the state House of Representatives.
Until O’Rourke challenged Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year, he was little known outside his hometown of El Paso, on Texas’ border with Mexico. But the Spanish-speaking, 46-year-old former punk rocker used grassroots organizing and social media savvy to mobilize young voters and minorities and get within 3 percentage points of winning in the nation’s largest red state.
In Burlington, O’Rourke distinguished himself from much of the rest of the field by saying he’d be open to remaking the structure of the Supreme Court so that it reflects modern U.S. diversity, even saying he’d be open to justice term limits.
O’Rourke’s record in Congress has drawn criticism from some for being too moderate, but he also spoke at length on Thursday about combating climate change and supporting the Green New Deal, a sweeping environmental plan backed by liberal Democrats.
Alice Davis, a retired teacher from Burlington, said O’Rourke “seems to be kind of a centrist, which I think we need.”
She said, “He’s not too far left, as some people are, and I think he could appeal to a lot of voters.”
At a house party in Muscatine on Thursday night, O’Rourke spoke about institutionalized racism, the harm done to African-Americans after emancipation and the failures of the Civil Rights movement but did not come down on either side of the reparations debate. He said only that, in speaking to others “who are much smarter on this issue,” he’s been told that the country needs to address its grim history with respect to racism before any repair can take place.
“I want to make sure that we have leadership that reflects that need, that is able to reflect and share the truth and bring a reckoning to this country that is hundreds of years in the making,” O’Rourke said. He offered no further clarification on his stance on monetary or other forms of reparation, which a number of his Democratic opponents have embraced.
O’Rourke started the race in southeast Iowa, where none of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have gone so far. Bordering the Mississippi River and featuring unemployment rates exceeding the state and national average, the area traditionally leans Democratic but supported Trump in 2016. Voters there helped elect Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds but also supported Democrat Abby Finenauer of Dubuque, who unseated Republican Rep. Rod Blum.
“These communities have slowly been hollowed out by the failure to transition from the extraction economy to a sustainable one,” said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who got his political start in the region.
At the house party in Muscatine, O’Rourke stood on a chair to address the dozens of curious Democratic voters who arrived to see him, taking questions from the crowd as he had all day.
Sharee Byrne and Alexis Huscko, both stay-at-home-moms from Muscatine, Iowa, said they had heard about O’Rourke from his Texas Senate run and were excited to see him in person. Both were concerned about rising health care costs and access to affordable education. Byrne said she was still open to choosing a candidate, while Huscko felt strongly in Bernie Sanders’ camp.
But both acknowledged O’Rourke’s charisma and looks were part of his appeal, while Huscko was less than complimentary about Trump.
“I think people are more interested in having a cougar-style, GQ kind of guy, instead of the frumpy cheeto,” Huscko said.
Weissert reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Elana Schor in Washington contributed to this report.
O’Rourke returning to Wisconsin for early campaign stops
By SCOTT BAUER
Friday, March 15
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Beto O’Rourke is returning to Wisconsin this weekend for early campaign stops that speak to the importance of the state in the 2020 presidential race.
O’Rourke is slated to appear Sunday at a coffee shop in Madison, the state’s liberal capital city, before heading to Milwaukee — site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention — for other events. It will be O’Rourke’s second visit to Madison in a month. He met with more than 200 University of Wisconsin students and faculty in February before he officially entered the race on Thursday in neighboring Iowa.
Wisconsin is expected to be one of the most hard-fought states in 2020 because it is one of the few seen as being truly in play. Democrats view it as part of a “blue wall” that they hope to build in the Upper Midwest to deny President Donald Trump a second term.
Trump carried Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, becoming the first Republican to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Democrat Hillary Clinton was roundly criticized for not returning to the state before Election Day after she lost the Wisconsin primary to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But Democrats have been buoyed by recent electoral successes — namely Tony Evers’ defeat of two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2018 as part of a Democratic sweep of every statewide race.
Adding to the momentum, Democrats on Monday announced that they would hold their national convention in Milwaukee in 2020, choosing it over the much larger cities of Houston and Miami.
O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, made a point during his first visit in February to emphasize that Wisconsin was “too often overlooked, the conversation does not begin until too late.” He said this feeling was motivating his visits to Wisconsin and several other states, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another candidate in the large Democratic presidential field, also made an early campaign stop in western Wisconsin last month.
Milwaukee and Madison are Wisconsin’s two largest cities and are the center of Democratic power in the state. In 2016, Clinton carried Milwaukee County with 65 percent of the vote and Dane County, which includes Madison, with 70 percent.
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP
Beto O’Rourke says nothing in his past will hinder 2020 run
By SCOTT BAUER and WILL WEISSERT
Monday, March 18
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told supporters Sunday that he’s never taken LSD and there’s “nothing” he hasn’t already revealed about his past that could come back to hurt his run for office.
The former Texas congressman — who has become known for his propensity for swearing — also promised again to clean up his language, despite breaking such past vows.
O’Rourke grabbed much attention as he wrapped up his first week of campaigning, but his challengers could be found at events from the Upper Midwest to the South. And looming over them all is the shadow of one prominent Democrat not in but not out, former Vice President Joe Biden. He has yet to announce a decision.
Speaking in front of a large map of Russia inside a coffee shop in Wisconsin’s capital, O’Rourke promised to return often, addressing concerns Democrats raised in 2016 after Hillary Clinton never campaigned in the state after her party’s primary and lost the state to Donald Trump by fewer than 23,000 votes.
“This state is fundamental to any prospect we have of electing a Democrat to the presidency in 2020,” O’Rourke said, adding that he was “really glad” Milwaukee was chosen to host the 2020 Democratic national convention. The city, which O’Rourke was visiting later Sunday, beat out Miami and Houston.
O’Rourke, of course, has to secure the Democratic presidential nomination before he can worry about the general election. But then he’s also already said he’d prefer to pick a woman as his running mate, should he make it that far. O’Rourke said Sunday that it was presumptuous to commit to that so early, but that doing so would make a “tremendous amount of sense” given the number of qualified women candidates.
Many remember the Texan for declaring “I’m so (bleeping) proud of you guys” on national television during his concession speech in November, after narrowly losing his Senate race to incumbent Republican Ted Cruz. O’Rourke said Sunday that he’ll not use profanities any more, after being asked by a voter if he was going to “clean up his act,” especially in front of children.
“Point taken, and very strongly made,” O’Rourke said. “We’re going to keep it clean.” He made a similar pledge during his race with Cruz, then didn’t make good.
O’Rourke has previously admitted to a 1998 arrest for drunken driving and said nothing else will come out that could be used against him during the 2020 presidential campaign. Later, he signed the skateboard of a supporter who asked if he had ever taken the drug LSD. The candidate responded that he hadn’t.
About 400 people came to the coffee shop to hear O’Rourke. Half made it inside and half listened from the sidewalk through the opened door. O’Rourke wore a St. Patrick’s Day necklace featuring green cabbage but said he had coffee — not beer — with his breakfast: “Although it can be justified as an O’Rourke on St. Patrick’s Day to do that,” he joked, in a nod to his Irish heritage.
The Republican Party’s official Twitter accounted noted his past arrest, tweeting, “On this St. Paddy’s Day, a special message from noted Irishman Robert Francis O’Rourke” and including an altered photo of the Democrat’s mug shot wearing an oversized, green leprechaun hat over the phrase “Please Drink Responsibly.”
Other highlights of Sunday’s campaigning:
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said during a campaign stop in Tennessee that her proposed tax on “ultra-millionaires” is a key step in reducing corruption and privileges for the rich, while making the economy work better for poorer people.
An energetic Warren spoke a racially-mixed group of about 400 potential voters while standing on a podium in front of the American and Tennessee flags in a large room at Douglass High School in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday afternoon. It was her first stop in a three-state tour of the South.
Warren is the first of a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates to visit the Deep South in the run-up to the 2020 election. She is scheduled to visit the Mississippi cities of Cleveland and Greenville before a CNN town hall in Jackson on Monday. Selma and Birmingham in Alabama are on the agenda Tuesday.
Memphis is a majority black, majority Democrat city that has backed Democrats the past three presidential elections. President Donald Trump won Tennessee.
Warren touted her tax on whose households with a net worth of $50 million or more. Warren said the tax revenue, estimated at $2.75 trillion over a ten-year period. could help in reducing the cost of housing, health care and child care.
“It is an America that is working great for those at the top and not working for anyone else, and that’s why I’m in this fight,” Warren said. She reminded the crowd that she is running a grassroots campaign that does not accept corporate donations.
Kirsten Gillibrand formally joined the 2020 White House race on Sunday and previewed the hard line she will take against President Donald Trump by announcing a rally outside one of his signature Manhattan properties.
The New York senator had spent more than a month traveling around the country to gauge support for a run. Gillibrand’s announcement that she was joining the dozen-plus Democratic candidates seeking the White House came in a nearly three-minute video released early Sunday, when she says the national anthem poses this question: “Will brave win?”
She said her debut speech as a candidate will come this coming Sunday in front of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York.
Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar says an exchange with a tearful Vietnam veteran who lost his son to mental illness is “a moment I’m never going to forget, no matter where I go in Iowa.”
The Minnesota senator spoke to voters Sunday at a Davenport, Iowa restaurant. It was the final stop of a two-day swing through the state.
The man, who was sitting toward the front of the room wearing a Vietnam Veterans hat, began crying as Klobuchar spoke about her respect for Sen. John McCain, who died last year. The Republican was a prisoner of war during Vietnam.
Klobuchar approached the man after her speech to take a photo. She stood with a hand on his back for several minutes as he recounted losing his son and told her he fears the U.S. may get into more wars.
Afterward, Klobuchar told reporters the moment “brings up again the importance of mental health centers.” She says mental health care has been one of the biggest concerns she’s heard from voters.
Democrat Pete Buttigieg says he’s met a fundraising threshold to participate in this summer’s presidential debates.
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor said says he’s received contributions from 65,000-plus individual donors. That’s key because the Democratic National Committee said last month up to 20 candidates can qualify for debates in June and July by collecting donations from at least 65,000 individuals, with at least 200 unique donors in at least 20 states.
In an email to supporters, Buttigieg said “we weren’t even close” to 65,000 donors when the DNC originally announced the requirement. The 37-year-old veteran says more than 76,000 people have now donated.
He also told “Fox News Sunday” that “all of the signs are pointing in the right direction” to shift from just exploring a 2020 run to becoming an official candidate, as Gillibrand did Sunday.
BILL de BLASIO
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized former President Barack Obama during a small gathering in New Hampshire as he mulls a run for president, saying that Obama’s early days in office were “a lost window.”
Minutes later, in front of a larger audience, de Blasio praised the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislative achievement, calling it “progress.” Obama pursued the health care legislation during his first two years in office and has been criticized at times for focusing on health care instead of the struggling economy.
A handful of people were present in a second-floor private room of a Concord restaurant when de Blasio compared Obama to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office in 1933 amid the Depression and immediately began a series of actions that came to define the modern presidency’s focus on a 100-day agenda. The mayor said Roosevelt was the only person who “had a greater head of steam and political momentum and capital coming into office.”
“He, to his great credit, did the 100 days and the reckless abandon and understood that you had to achieve for people to build the next stage of capital to use for the next thing,” de Blasio said. “Obama, I think, nobly went at health care, but it played out over such a long time and it got treated politically as such a narrow instead of universal item, tragically, that it was a lost window. And I’m not saying anything I don’t think a lot of people feel.”
Democratic White House hopeful Cory Booker said Sunday night he would reverse President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military if elected president.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 300 voters in Davenport, Booker answered a question posed by a woman who identified herself as transgender about what he would do to protect LGBTQ rights as president.
“When I am president of the United States, right away I will end this ridiculous, insulting, un-American ban on transgender Americans serving in the military,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
It was one of a handful of Trump Administration policies the New Jersey senator pledged to undo if elected president, including Trump’s tax cuts and his revocation of protections from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.
Booker also weighed in on marijuana legalization, offering a more comprehensive vision for legalization that would include expunging criminal records and promoting access to the legal marijuana industry for women and people of color.
Weissert reported from Dubuque, Iowa. Associated Press writers Sara Burnett and Alexandra Jaffe in Davenport, Iowa; Hunter Woodall in Concord, New Hampshire; and Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.