BURLINGTON, Iowa – For weeks, Beto O’Rourke’s supporters chased rumors, placed bets and wondered aloud when he would announce his run for president. But in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, one thing nearly everyone who knew O’Rourke thought they could count on was that when he finally did announce, it would be there.
“He is El Paso’s son,” Lorri Burnett, a community activist in El Paso, said before O’Rourke announced his presidential campaign in a video Thursday and zipped straight to Iowa. “I do not believe he would take this away from the home boys.”
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In a sense, of course, he did take it away from El Paso, touching off his campaign in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
But in a video announcing his campaign, O’Rourke promised to return to the city for a March 30 kickoff event. And in the hours before his announcement, O’Rourke did something else for his hometown: He displayed a touch for a fading tradition in national politics, paying a modicum of respect to the hometown media — and its viewers — even on a politician’s way up.
Stepping on his own announcement, O’Rourke on Wednesday night texted KTSM, a television station in El Paso, confirming that he planned to announce his 2020 campaign the following morning.
“I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” O’Rourke wrote, according to the station. “It’s a big part of why I’m running. This city is the best example of this country at its best.”
On Thursday, the El Paso Times heralded “an exclusive interview” that O’Rourke gave the newspaper “before his official announcement.”
O’Rourke, though widely popular among Democratic voters in Texas, had been encouraged by some members of his party to forgo a presidential campaign in 2020 and run again for the Senate, this time against Republican John Cornyn. And some Democrats in the state complained privately about O’Rourke’s lack of communication with them ahead of his presidential run. When O’Rourke announced this week that he would attend a rally in Iowa on Saturday for Eric Giddens, a Democratic state Senate candidate, Trish Florence, a progressive activist in Texas, said she wished he were helping more in his home state.
Before Democrat Ray Lopez won a Texas legislative seat in a special election on Tuesday night, Florence tweeted, “Hey @BetoORourke! There’s a special election in Texas today! Wish you’d pitched in for @raylopezfortx!”
But O’Rourke’s credibility in El Paso, a heavily Democratic city, is difficult to overstate. The former congressman has invoked the city’s place on the border with Juárez, Mexico, as the experiential foundation for his opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, and he has credited the city of about 680,000 people, where he once served on the City Council, with forming him as a politician.
When El Paso Inc. bestowed its “El Pasoan of the Year” award on O’Rourke last month, he called it the “the honor of a lifetime and the pinnacle of what has made me who I am.”
For KTSM, owning confirmation from O’Rourke that he would announce his run for president was a coup. The local newspaper got its interview. And in El Paso, that appeared to be enough.
Most people realize, said Steve Ortega, a friend of O’Rourke who served on the El Paso City Council with him, that “at this point … his goal is to win the presidency, and he wanted to announce in a way that the entire country was going to hear the message.”
O’Rourke shot his announcement video from his couch in the city’s Sunset Heights neighborhood, Burnett pointed out, adding, “That’s good enough for the hometown boys.”
“He loves his El Pasoans, and we certainly do love him,” she said.
Looking ahead, Burnett said: “Now I know he’ll come home and celebrate when he wins. There’s no doubt about that. He will celebrate this in El Paso.”