National Politics

Who is Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke?

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, the skateboarding, bass guitar-playing, countertop-perching former congressman, became a national political figure during his 2018 Senate run against Texas incumbent Ted Cruz.

No Democrat had won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but O’Rourke went to all 254 counties and made himself a household name. He never hired political advisers or pollsters, refused corporate donations, but rose in fame thanks to aggressive door-knocking and live streams of his travels, which became something of performance art.

His newfound celebrity — and record donations — got him star-studded endorsements from the likes of LeBron James and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

But he lost. He told The New Yorker that he went into a “funk” and said his family couldn’t take a 2020 run.

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But the public pressed and Oprah pressed, so O’Rourke took a solo road trip to think about it. He blogged about it. He talked to his family about it.

And in March, he semi-announced in a Vanity Fair cover story.

“I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it,” he said.

The day he decided to run, his campaign raised more than $6 million.

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The youthful, 46-year-old from the border town of El Paso has since made waves with his focus on immigration, calling for creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and promising that his first international trip as president would be to Mexico.

Undocumented immigration is an “opportunity” for the country to rewrite its laws in accordance “with our values,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. With unique credibility as a voice from the border, he has pitched a system with the Mexican government that would track who was in the country.

The momentum has dropped off a bit since his announcement, as his name is not part of a much larger, diverse pool. He’s kept out of the national media more than others like, say, Pete Buttigieg, and he didn’t do a CNN town hall until late May, unlike other candidates who took advantage of the platform earlier.

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About Beto O’Rourke

Current or most recent position: O’Rourke represented Texas’ 16th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019.

Other elected offices: In 2005, O’Rourke served on the El Paso City Council.

Occupation: After he graduated from college, O’Rourke worked as a live-in caretaker and art mover before working for an Internet service provider run by his uncle. He later worked as a proofreader and wrote short stories and songs. When O’Rourke returned to El Paso in 1998, he worked at his mother’s furniture store. In 2000, he co-founded Stanton Street Technology Group, an Internet and software company. For a few years, the company also published an online newspaper, also called Stanton Street. O’Rourke was involved with El Paso organizations and nonprofits like the Rotary Club and United Way, and served on the boards of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Institute for Policy and Economic Development at UTEP.

Education: O’Rourke received his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Columbia University.

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Age: 46

Residence: El Paso, Texas

Family: O’Rourke is married to teacher Amy Hoover Sanders. They have three children: Henry, Ulysses and Molly.

Campaign website: betoorourke.com

Small donors: $5,542,641 or 59.1%.

Big donors: As of June 21, top donors included University of Texas ($35,393), El-Paso based Hunt Companies ($25,957), Sanchez Oil & Gas ($22,400), tech conglomerate Cisco Systems ($16,300) and Amazon.com ($12,613).

Fun fact: In his 20s, O’Rourke was in a punk band called “Foss,” which is Icelandic for “waterfall.”

On the issues: O’Rourke has taken official positions on climate change, immigration, LGBTQ issues, voting rights, reproductive rights and small businesses.

Noteworthy pitches include goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, ensure full protections of the LGBTQ community through legislative action, expanded insurance coverage for women’s health services and a crackdown on voter ID laws.

Sources of biographical information: The Beto O’Rourke Campaign, The New York Times

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Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.
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