US election 2020: Beto O'Rourke launches presidential bid

Media caption,
Who is Beto O'Rourke?

Former Texas congressman Robert "Beto" O'Rourke has formally announced he is running for president in the 2020 election after months of speculation.

In his campaign video, the Democratic rising star said the US was facing a "defining moment of truth".

Mr O'Rourke, 46, is the 15th Democrat to declare his bid for the White House.

In last year's mid-term election, he ran a tight race against Republican Ted Cruz for his Senate seat, though it proved ultimately unsuccessful.

But he did better than any Democrat in Texas for decades, running a campaign that energised the party nationwide and drew comparisons with former President Barack Obama.

He joins a crowded field of contenders vying for the Democratic nomination, including senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, to name but a few.

Appearing alongside his wife in a campaign launch video, Mr O'Rourke said the challenges facing the economy, American democracy and the climate had never been greater.

"They will either consume us or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America," he said.

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Mr Sanders and former Vice-President Joe Biden, who is expected to announce his White House campaign soon, are leading early polls.

But Mr O'Rourke's success with younger voters and knack for viral moments could change that.

On Thursday, the Texas Democrat began his campaign with a three-day trip to Iowa.

Mr Trump later criticised the new Democratic contender's body language.

"Well I think he's got a lot of hand movement," said the Republican president at the White House.

"I've never seen so much hand movement. I said, 'Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?'"

Asked which potential Democratic rival he feared most, Mr Trump said: "Whoever it is, I'll take them all."

Rare political phenomenon

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

There's something strange about an electoral defeat launching a presidential campaign. But 2020 is shaping up to be a strange election cycle.

Beto O'Rourke captured the imagination of Democrats across America with his energetic yet ultimately unsuccessful 2018 bid to unseat Ted Cruz in Texas.

He became a social media star, packed rallies across the state and posted fundraising numbers more akin to a presidential contender than a Senate hopeful.

Now he is a presidential contender.

Few of the former congressman from El Paso's competitors have matched his star power.

Bernie Sanders has his passionate devotees. Kamala Harris pulled 20,000 to her campaign kickoff in Oakland. But Mr O'Rourke has the potential to match them cheer for cheer.

Sensible journalists swoon. "Beto" attire has been spotted in Brooklyn coffee shops and on the head of basketball star LeBron James. Despite a paper-thin resume, Mr O'Rourke is a rare political phenomenon.

His challenge in the race will be to put some policy meat on the inspirational rhetoric. In his first appearance in Iowa, he said: "There's no sense in campaigning if you already know every answer."

Given that he'll be up against opponents who have much more developed ideas for what they would do as president, however, he needs to come up with at least a few well-developed answers.

The late Texas writer Molly Ivins once observed that a successful presidential candidate has to have "a little Elvis in him". Mr O'Rourke has Elvis in spades. Enough Elvis to open a Las Vegas casino.

Now Elvis is going on tour.

Who is Beto O'Rourke?

He represented Texas' 16th congressional district for three terms before running unsuccessfully last year for the US Senate.

Mr O'Rourke lives with his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders, and three children in El Paso. He has an estimated net worth of nearly $9m (£6.7m).

His first name is actually Robert, but he is known by his nickname Beto - a common contraction of Roberto, which he says he picked up as a child in El Paso.

He is a former punk rock musician and a fluent Spanish speaker with Irish roots.

Mr O'Rourke broke Senate fundraising records by amassing more than $80m over the course of last year's election campaign.

He also travelled to all of Texas' 254 counties, documenting the journey on social media.

Media caption,
Rival rallies: President Trump v Democrat Beto O'Rourke in El Paso, Texas

Following his November defeat, Mr O'Rourke reportedly met Mr Obama after the former president offered him some advice.

Mr O'Rourke embarked on a road trip across the south-western US, which he documented in a blog.

"Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk," the former congressman wrote. "Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what's going on... I'll clear my head."

Several parody accounts appeared online mocking the posts. Even supporters questioned why Mr O'Rourke was on the road while other Democratic contenders were assembling staff and funding.

CNN political reporter CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson wrote of the road trip: "This is a luxury no woman or even minority in politics could ever have."

One conservative campaign group has already aired an advert attacking Mr O'Rourke for "white male privilege".

But the premiere of a documentary about his Senate run, Running With Beto, at South by Southwest festival this month earned a standing ovation.

Who will take on Trump in 2020?

So Beto O'Rourke is in. But who else has a shot at becoming the next president?