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Fmr. Rep. Beto O’Rourke: 7 things you need to know

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By Roey Hadar

Gwen Ifill Fellow

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has decided to jump in to the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, announcing his run on March 14th.

O’Rourke, who served three terms in Congress before mounting an ultimately unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), became the darling of national Democrats during his Senate campaign, raising $80 million in funds in the process. After months of speculation about O’Rourke’s future and whether he would run again for U.S. Senate in 2020 or aim for the presidency, O’Rourke is now in the presidential race.

Here are seven things you need to know about the candidate often known simply by his nickname “Beto.”

  • O’Rourke grew up in El Paso in an influential family. His father Pat O’Rourke was both a County Commissioner and County Judge in El Paso while his mother ran a furniture store. While his family is not Hispanic or Latino, his nickname Beto, for his birth name of Robert, was meant to distinguish him from his grandfather of the same name. El Paso has a majority Hispanic and Latino population and Beto is a common Spanish nickname for the names Robert and Roberto.
  • He set fundraising records during his Senate campaign. O’Rourke raised $80 million during his campaign last year, a largely unheard-of amount for a state-level campaign. His fundraising prowess included raising $38 million in one quarter, a record for U.S. Senate races far surpassing the previous high of $22 million. O’Rourke’s numbers did not come from a small collection of large donors, but instead from over 800,000 people, the majority of whom lived in Texas.
  • He came to Congress by unseating an incumbent Democrat. In a heavily Democratic district, O’Rourke successfully challenged eight-term incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes in a primary. He distinguished himself by vocally supporting LGBT+ rights and more relaxed drug policies and by knocking on 16,000 doors while campaigning mostly on foot.
  • As a member representing a border district, he made immigration reform his top priority in Congress. O’Rourke favors comprehensive immigration reform and has opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He opposes Trump’s border wall proposal, expressing a willingness to “take the wall down” and criticized him for “constantly stoking anxiety and fear about Mexicans, immigrants and the border with Mexico.”
  • He supports single-payer Medicare for all, but did not support bills introduced on the issue in Congress. O’Rourke says the system is “the best way to ensure all Americans get the healthcare they need,” but opposed a House Democratic proposal because he disagreed with the way the bill reimbursed coverage. O’Rourke said as a Senate candidate, however, that he would support Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all proposal if elected.
  • O’Rourke expressed support for pro football players’ “Take a Knee” protests in a video that went viral. At an August 2018 campaign event, he said that he “can think of nothing more American” than the protest led by former National Football League star Colin Kaepernick against police brutality and racial injustice that included taking a knee during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” President Trump criticized Kaepernick and other athletes who protested and called on the NFL to suspend protesting players without pay.
  • He has become known for multiple road trips. In March 2017, O’Rourke and his fellow Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican, took a 1,600-mile road trip together to return to Washington after their flight was canceled due to a snowstorm. O’Rourke live streamed the trip on Facebook, which showed how the two became friends by traveling together. After falling short in his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate, O’Rourke took a solo road trip across the American West to meet voters as he came to grips with his defeat and pondered his next step.