As Beto O’Rourke weighs whether to run for president in 2020, he and his top aides are carefully keeping alive expectations that he’ll ultimately seek the Democratic nomination.
In meetings, calls and text messages, the 46-year-old former congressman from Texas and his aides and advisers are – without committing to anything – talking through the contours and challenges of a presidential run and evaluating potential staff and supporters.
The decision on whether to run is unlikely to come before February at the earliest, two sources close to O’Rourke said. Should he run, he would enter the race a top-tier candidate, bringing a massive small-dollar donor base and a sharp stylistic clash with President Donald Trump into a wide-open Democratic contest.
On Tuesday, an hour after Trump delivered a nationally televised speech about border security, O’Rourke was walking with a friend through the streets of El Paso, along the southern US border, on Facebook Live. He said that if Americans could come and experience the city, “all of this consternation and fear” about immigration and the border “would melt away.”
O’Rourke’s camp is feeding the speculation of a presidential campaign in subtle ways – ranging from keeping his email list active to green-lighting public declarations of support.
“He could easily send a message that he didn’t want this to happen, and he hasn’t done that,” said Tyler Jones, a veteran South Carolina Democratic operative who this week joined an outside effort to draft O’Rourke into the 2020 race.
Since his failed bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, several likely Democratic presidential candidates, eager to see what O’Rourke will do next, have reached out, sources familiar with the calls said. California Sen. Kamala Harris spoke with O’Rourke by phone. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren left a voicemail.
O’Rourke met in mid-December with Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who ran for president in 2016. O’Malley had decided he would not run again, and he wanted to use his exit from the field of possible contenders to highlight the person he thought the party should nominate.
Weeks later, O’Malley checked in with David Wysong, O’Rourke’s longtime top aide. He wanted to know if, by backing a potential O’Rourke candidacy, he would be walking out onto a limb that was about to be sawed off.
Wysong told O’Malley to go ahead, a source familiar with the conversation said. And soon afterward, the Des Moines Register published an op-ed by O’Malley – the text of which O’Rourke’s camp said it hadn’t seen beforehand. The first sentence: “I will not be running for president in 2020, but I hope Beto O’Rourke does.”
It was one in a series of moves that have fanned speculation about an O’Rourke presidential run as O’Rourke personally takes time off after a two-year Senate campaign in which a defining feature was his constant travel to all 254 counties in Texas.
In November, O’Rourke took to Medium with a post that was literally about running through Washington, but that many took metaphorically. In December, his wife, Amy, wrote a Medium post about the Senate campaign: “My hope is that as I continue to share these moments with our kids, they will see that even though we lost the election, this was the best possible way we could have spent the past two years.”