Beto O'Rourke Resists Calls To Drop His White House Bid And Run For Senate Instead

Aug 15, 2019
Originally published on August 16, 2019 7:18 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As one presidential candidate drops out of the race today, another is relaunching his campaign. Speaking in El Paso, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke says it is tempting to stay in his hometown and help it recover from a mass shooting.

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BETO O'ROURKE: But that would not be good enough for this community. That would not be good enough for El Paso. That would not be good enough for this country. We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem, that person who has caused this pain and placed this country in this moment of peril, and that is Donald Trump.

KELLY: And for O'Rourke, that meant retooling his approach to the race. The candidate getting out of the race, meanwhile, is former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Now he is giving serious thought to running for Senate in his home state. Well, NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is here.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

KELLY: Talk first about Beto O'Rourke. When he says he is relaunching and retooling his campaign, what does that mean?

DETROW: Yeah. He was one of the first Democrats in the wake of the El Paso shootings to say that President Trump shares responsibility for white supremacy on the rise, for a rise in hate crimes across the country. And the El Paso shooting, of course, was allegedly carried out for racist, anti-immigrant reasons. And O'Rourke has been increasingly angry and defiant. And he said today that he does not think the country has responded strongly enough to what the president talks about and the policies of the Trump administration that O'Rourke argues target immigrants and people of color.

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O'ROURKE: When we allow this country to be defined along lines of race and ethnicity and religion, we allow a commander in chief to not only welcome that but the violence that follows to defy our laws, our institutions and any ethical or moral boundaries.

DETROW: So O'Rourke says he's going to be focusing on that specifically going forward instead of campaigning as usual, and that will likely take him beyond the traditional early states where people campaign.

KELLY: There have been a lot of calls for him to drop out of the race for president, to run for Senate instead. He acknowledged that in today's speech. How real is that pressure?

DETROW: You know, his campaign has really been struggling, especially when you compare it to the initial expectations. He came into this race as this Democratic cause celebre from last year's Senate race which he lost to Ted Cruz in Texas. He raised millions of dollars in his first day in the race. And he raised less than that amount in the last three-month fundraising period that we have a full picture of.

KELLY: OK.

DETROW: He hasn't stood out in the debates. He's low in the polls, so Democrats have a hard path to reclaiming the Senate next year. And they're looking at this field and seeing several really strong Senate candidates in states with races next year - that includes O'Rourke, where John Cornyn is up for re-election next year, Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana. And in Colorado, there were a lot of calls for Hickenlooper to drop out and run for Senate instead.

KELLY: Right. And, of course, today he did drop out. And is he definitely running for the Senate?

DETROW: He did not make a clear announcement today. Politically it probably would not be a good idea to launch a new campaign the day you're ending an unsuccessful campaign, but he says he's giving it serious thought. Colorado is probably a state the Democrats have to win. It has to start there if they're going to have any chance of retaking control of the Senate - increasingly gone Democratic in recent years. The president is very unpopular there. And Cory Gardner, the incumbent Republican, is pretty vulnerable. So Democrats from Chuck Schumer on down were really saying, John Hickenlooper, you need to spend your time on the Senate race instead.

KELLY: All right. So I was trying to do the tallies in terms of where we stand in the Democratic field. I believe I'm right in saying we have 23 left standing.

DETROW: Yes.

KELLY: OK. Who might go next? What are the factors that might drive others out of the race going forward?

DETROW: There are two deadlines coming up. The first is the end of the month. That is the deadline for Democrats to qualify for the next round of debates. You have to be at 2% in the polls. You have to have 130,000 donors. Hickenlooper was someone who probably was not going to meet those goals. If other candidates fall short of them, I think they'll feel some pressure to maybe end their campaigns.

And related to that, the end of September - that's the end of the next fundraising period. A lot of these campaigns have really added a lot of staff, made a lot of financial commitments. If they're still low in the polls, they might have a hard time raising money and continuing to pay the bills for their campaign operations.

KELLY: OK, a lot to watch for in these next few weeks. That's NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow.

Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.