AUSTIN, Texas — Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke announced Thursday that he'll seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, pledging to win over voters from both major parties as he tries to translate his political celebrity into a formidable White House bid.
Until he challenged Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year, O'Rourke was little known outside his hometown of El Paso. But the Spanish-speaking 46-year-old former punk rocker used grassroots organizing and social media savvy to mobilize young voters and minorities in the Senate race. He got within 3 percentage points of upsetting Cruz in the nation's largest red state — and shattered fundraising records in the process — immediately fueling chatter that he could have higher ambitions.
O'Rourke now must prove whether the energy he brought to the Texas campaign will resonate on a much larger stage.
"This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country," O'Rourke said in a video announcement with his wife on a couch. "We saw the power of this in Texas."
O'Rourke had never before visited Iowa, which kicks off presidential voting, but said during his first stop at a coffeeshop there Thursday, "I could care less about your party persuasion, your religion, anything other than the fact that, right now, we are all Americans."
His comments were carried live on several cable networks, the kind of exposure other candidates in the already crowded 2020 Democratic field don't often get.
O'Rourke has promised to travel the country listening to voters, then will return to El Paso, on the border with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 30 for an official campaign kickoff. He invites would-be supporters "to the greatest grassroots campaign this country has ever seen."