MANCHESTER, NH – Former hacker-poet-punk rocker turned former Texas Congressman Beto (pronounced Beh-Toe) O’Rourke held a Queen City meet-and-greet today to marshal support for his 2020 Democratic presidential primary bid
The event, part of a 48-hour dash through the 10 New Hampshire counties, drew a crowd that stretched down Amherst Street, past the tattoo parlor and adult-entertainment shop, and filled the host venue, Consuelo’s Taqueria, well beyond fire-safe occupancy Thursday morning. The Beto-Curious were packed in tightly, almost unable to move, surrounded by the ghosts of burritos past and empanadas yet to come.
O’Rourke grew up in El Paso, Texas, a city of about a million people right on the U.S. border with Mexico. His choice of venue here and his decision to open his remarks in Spanish underscored a cornerstone of his campaign: He says he believes immigration and immigrants are important to the U.S.
“Their presence in this country, in Manchester and in my hometown of El Paso, makes us stronger, makes us more successful, and, yes, makes us more secure,” O’Rourke said. “When we treat one another with dignity and respect, that’s how we secure our future.”
O’Rourke, a three-term congressman, is tall, 6’4”, because of course he is (the U.S hasn’t elected anyone of average height since Jimmy Carter in ‘76); he’s handsome or handsome enough, and, at 46, he’s younger than many of the other Democratic frontrunners. He’s also fresh off a tight race with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, which, although a loss for O’Rourke, earned him more than four million votes and made him the top Democratic vote getter in any Lone Star State election ever. (Hillary Clinton netted 3.87 million in the 2016 presidential race.)
Let’s free the Dreamers from the fear of deportation and make them U.S. citizens today. pic.twitter.com/JyjyfRFMVO
— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) March 21, 2019
He spoke for about 15 minutes at the event, topics ranging from gun control (universal background checks and a need to “stop selling weapons of war into our communities”) to the opioid crisis (a result of over prescribing) to climate change (it’s real and a real problem) to health-care costs (a slow transition to Medicare for all) to college debt (it’s bad) to economic reform (raise the minimum wage, level the playing field) to marijuana legalization (do it) to gerrymandering (stop it) to the importance of a strong democracy. He also visited and revisited the idea that the U.S., under the Trump administration, has given up its role as a moral example to the so-called free world.
“We’re going to reassert our global leadership,” O’Rourke said. “We must fix our democracy because right now it is captured, it is corrupted by corporations and special interests, by that concentration of wealth and privilege.”
O’Rourke name-dropped New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas and thanked him for sponsoring legislation to end political and racial gerrymandering. The Texan went on to call for a federal voting-rights act and said his campaign would not take donations from corporations and political-action committees (PACs). He also stressed the importance of listening to young people and letting them lead.
“We saw young voter turnout up 500 percent in the last [Texas] election,” he said. “We need to see young people as the leaders of tomorrow and the leaders of today because that is what they are on any issue that matters.”
In his prepared remarks, O’Rourke’s voice was hoarse with an almost sing-song delivery. His distinctive and much-commented-upon hand gestures were on display. However, when he opened the floor to questions from the audience, he seemed to relax. His voice smoothed out and, for the next 20 minutes, his flailing diminished. He seemed comfortable. At one point, he asked a Hispanic woman if she would prefer he answer her question in Spanish or in English. She opted for English.
When asked about his foreign-policy qualifications, O’Rourke sidestepped the question and returned to his idea of America’s moral leadership.
“We cannot be the generation to squander that leadership,” he said. “We cannot turn our backs on our allies, as our current president has done, questioning the wisdom of NATO … I want to be sure we have a foreign policy that is oriented towards our real priorities.” O’Rourke expressed concerns about the history of U.S. involvement in other nations: the War on Drugs, the Middle East, and the civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He said President Obama’s nuclear treaty with Iran was mostly a success. “I want to make sure we resolve otherwise intractable problems as peacefully as possible. Our preceding president, faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran – without firing a shot, without invading yet another Middle East country – stopped that country from its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
By press time, the O’Rourke campaign had not returned a message asking about the size of the meet-and-greet crowd, but it was pretty big. The average age was a little lower than that of crowds at recent events held by other primary candidates and maybe it was a little more diverse. However, based on the amount of laughter and cheering prompted by O’Rourke’s occasional quips or statements in Spanish, not much more.
At 12:30 p.m. March 30, the O’Rourke campaign will livestream its official campaign kickoff event from El Paso, Texas.