WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke recast his presidential campaign as he rejoined the race on Thursday following a nearly two-week pause, using a speech in his Texas hometown where a mass shooting killed 22 people to argue that Donald Trump must be denied a second term.
The former congressman gave a speech at an El Paso park close the U.S.-Mexico border — delivering what he billed as a “national address.” O’Rourke described himself as waging a battle against a president who has fomented fear of immigrants and white supremacist attitudes that helped spark violence.
His aides say the next phase of O’Rourke’s campaign won’t simply focus on plodding through states that vote early in the presidential primary, like Iowa, but instead feature their candidate drawing more sharp contrasts between himself and Trump and arguing why the president must be voted out of office.
On Friday, O’Rourke is planning to head to Mississippi, where federal immigration agents last week arrested 680 Latino workers in a massive workplace sting at seven chicken processing plants, shocking the community. After Trump took office, then-Acting Director Thomas Homan declared that ICE would try to increase al enforcement actions at worksites believed to be employing people in the country illegally, like the Mississippi plants, by 400%.
O’Rourke was campaigning in Nevada on Aug. 3 when a gunman who denounced immigrants in an online screed opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso. He rushed home and has attended funerals and vigils, visited victims who remained hospitalized and donated blood while appearing repeatedly on national television to say Trump’s fiery and often racist rhetoric helped cause the shooting.
In the meantime his campaign — which in recent months had seen once promising polling and fundraising slump sharply — remained suspended. In the aftermath of the shooting, O’Rourke even stopped sending emails to supporters asking for donations and pulled online fundraising ads, though he still took donations via his campaign’s website.
O’Rourke now finds himself in a precarious position. He has again seized the national spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons.
As he hits the campaign trail anew, it’s unclear if becoming the public face of his grieving hometown, and blaming Trump for what happened, will resonate with voters elsewhere — even as he begins again traveling the country to woo them. Thursday’s speech comes almost exactly five months after O’Rourke stormed into the presidential race amid rising buzz and expectations.
O’Rourke already tried a major strategy shift and reintroduction months ago, increasing his appearances on national television and releasing a string of policy proposals, attempting to show would-be supporters that he didn’t prioritize political style over substance. That effort largely failed to get his campaign back on track, though.
While he was away, O’Rourke missed scheduled campaign stops in Nevada, California, Colorado and Iowa. Last weekend nearly the entire, 24-candidate field of 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls visited the Iowa state fair and crisscrossed the state to try and impress voters who will kick off presidential primary in February.