FAYETTEVILLE -- Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on Sunday drew 400 people to a rally in which he called for buybacks of assault-style rifles and criticized President Donald Trump's record on race.
The nation has never fully lived up to the ideal of equality in the Declaration of Independence, "but [it] never stopped trying until the administration of this president," O'Rourke told the crowd gathered in a pavilion on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus.
The noon rally was largely about -- and was rescheduled because of -- gun violence.
The former congressman from Texas originally was scheduled to hold the Fayetteville rally on Friday, before attending the Democratic Party of Arkansas' annual Clinton Dinner in Little Rock on Saturday night.
But after an Aug. 3 mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso that killed 22 people, O'Rourke returned to El Paso and later asked the University of Arkansas Young Democrats, which organized Sunday's rally, whether it could move the time.
Authorities have said they believe that the suspect in the shooting posted a statement online shortly before the attack, which occurred near the border between the U.S. and Mexico. In the statement, the writer warned of an "invasion" of migrants.
"It's not enough to not be racist, ladies and gentlemen," O'Rourke told the crowd in Fayetteville. "We have to be anti-racist."
Drawing such a crowd for such a message, about reducing access to guns and directly confronting racism, marks a major shift in Arkansas politics, said state Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville.
"Things we used to think a politician couldn't talk about are now not only popular, but things such as common-sense gun laws are things in which a huge majority agree," she said.
But Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, said politicians have good reasons for not talking about, for instance, making some types of guns illegal and having a buyback program. And a person should take care before accusing anyone else of racism, she said, noting it's a very serious allegation.
"I don't think his message will be received that well in Arkansas even among Democrats here," said Lundstrum, who watched O'Rourke's appearance on a live video. She called the buyback proposal a "feel-good" measure that would not work even if taxpayers were willing to pay for it.
And she said his comments on racism were "not helpful," but instead were provocative.
"I think it's great he came to Northwest Arkansas," Lundstrum said. "Arkansas is not flyover country, and while I disagree with him, I respectfully disagree. At least he proposed something. I don't think it's a useful solution, but it was a place to start."
Raven Cook of Fayetteville went to the rally a half-hour early. O'Rourke talks about race and social justice in America in a straightforward manner, she said, adding that it's a core issue other candidates need to address as directly as he does.
The crowd overflowed the red-brick pavilion on the university campus, and many attending the rally stood in the rain, with lightning crackling overhead and a hornet nest being found in a nearby tree.
Corrinnia Briggs of Fayetteville attended despite her concerns about the wisdom of appearing in a crowd in the wake of recent gun violence. She said she appreciated O'Rourke's willingness to appear at a gun show in Conway on Saturday afternoon, before the fundraiser in Little Rock that evening. It showed a willingness to consider all sides of a question even in the aftermath of a tragedy in his hometown, she said.
Metro on 08/19/2019
Print Headline: Beto O'Rourke makes stop in Northwest Arkansas