Hundreds gather in downtown Fort Worth for Beto O’Rourke town hall and rally

Hundreds of people packed into the Flying Saucer in Fort Worth for Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign town hall Friday night.

The former U.S. representative from El Paso is known for his unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate last year against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. He lost the statewide bid, but made news in conservative Tarrant County, where he beat Cruz by 3,869 votes.

O’Rourke was expected to speak at about 6:15 p.m and a drizzle of rain did not stop the flow of attendees onto the patio, many of whom wore “Beto” T-shirts and other paraphernalia.

One such stand-out was Sally Pearson’s sparkling blue cowboy hat, identical to one she handed to O’Rourke when she was an ambassador on his Senate race last year.

Sally Pearson and her husband, Patrick, have lived in Colleyville for about 30 years.

Hundreds attended a Beto O’Rourke rally in Fort Worth Friday night. Kaley Johnson kjohnson@star-telegram.com

“Any chance I get to hear him, I take,” she said. “The first time I heard him speak, I saw him on my computer and (my husband) was in the other room and I said, ‘Come here, listen to this guy.’”

Sally Pearson said there are many great candidates in the Democratic field, but she hopes to see O’Rourke win.

“Every new bid that enters the race seems to be better than what we have,” Patrick Pearson said.

Other attendees were not sold on the El Paso native’s candidacy, and were hoping to get a better idea of what he stands for.

Patrick Bailey, 59, said he voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election and watched the U.S. senator speak last week in Fort Worth. He is hoping to hear O’Rourke’s position on universal health care.

Acacia Brown and Jade Torres, both 21-year-old Fort Worth natives, said O’Rourke already has their vote in the 2020 presidential election. Brown said she appreciates O’Rourke’s passion and they both hope he wins over Tarrant County voters again.

Diane Myers, 71, said she voted for O’Rourke in the Senate race but has never heard him speak.

“I wanted to feel the charisma I keep hearing about,” Myers said. “I’m a Democrat and I want someone who is going to beat Donald Trump.”

Across the street, a handful of protesters had very different sentiments.

Carol Guarnieri held a sign in each hand, one saying, “Let’s celebrate Trump,” and the other showing O’Rourke’s name crossed out.

“We wanted to (use) the opportunity to let people know that Donald has a lot of support in Fort Worth and Tarrant County and we’re here to show our support,” Guarnieri said.

Carol Guarnieri from Fort Worth protested the Beto O’Rourke rally from across the street in downtown Fort Worth Friday night. Kaley Johnson kjohnson@star-telegram.com

Guarnieri said she disagrees with O’Rourke’s support of the Green New Deal and his stance on abortion.

“He’s turned into a little, bitty Bernie, is what he is,” she said. “He doesn’t represent the mainstream and I think the 2020 election is going to prove that. I think it’s going to be a landslide for President Trump.”

When asked about the Senate race, Guarnieri called O’Rourke’s win in Tarrant County “a fluke.”

Bill Basham, 58, and his 11-year-old son Nathan also stood across the street in protest of the rally. Basham said O’Rourke’s immigration platform encourages illegal immigration and takes jobs away from others.

“Beto and the rest of the liberal Democrtats want to let everyone else in and not take care of the people here,” he said. “They need to take care of the United States before they worry about someone else coming in here.”

Basham also said people should boycott the Flying Saucer for allowing O’Rourke to hold his town hall there.

A number of Democratic presidential hopefuls are heading to Tarrant County, as many believe it’s a bellwether that serves as a guide to any political shift that might happen in Texas. The percentage of Tarrant voters backing Republicans in presidential elections matched the statewide results in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

O’Rourke is the fourth Democratic presidential candidate to campaign in Tarrant County this year, following Kamala Harris in March and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in April.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.
Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.