Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke has his eye on the prize.
The 2020 election is nearly a year away, but he said the goal is clear.
“We are going to do everything we can to defeat Donald Trump,” O’Rourke — one of nearly two dozen Democrats seeking the presidential nomination — told a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered for a town hall Friday night at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.
O’Rourke received good news recently, through a poll that shows he can beat President Trump. But another poll shows he’s trailing other Democrats in the race.
He told the Star-Telegram that he plans to stand out by showing up, as he did in Texas during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid last year, for “everybody ... (and) for the courage of our convictions.”
O’Rourke came here, to the bellwether of Texas, because Tarrant County serves as a guide to any political shift that might happen statewide. He narrowly beat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz here last year, even though he lost the statewide race.
O’Rourke now hopes Tarrant County and Texas will help him win the Democratic presidential nomination next year — and ultimately his bid for the White House.
Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Darl Easton said he’s not surprised O’Rourke is back in Fort Worth, but he doesn’t believe the former El Paso representative will be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee next year.
“He might carry Tarrant County in the Democratic primary, but I don’t think he’ll be on the ballot” in November 2020, he said.
More than that, Easton said local Republicans are getting energized and organized for the 2020 presidential election.
“We’ve got our Republican voters in Tarrant County ‘woke up,’” he said. “The whole thing is to ramp up our ground game.
“We will be working hard here over the next 18 months, until November 2020.”
But “what I hear from people is they’re not into the name calling, not into the bickering and the partisanship,” O’Rourke told the Star-Telegram before the event. “They are not into the dysfunction and division that defines so much” of politics.
“I’m not into the pettiness, or the smallness,” he said. “I’ll leave that to the lieutenant governor and the president.”
During his rally, O’Rourke touched on many campaign issues, including his plan to address climate change.
But some supporters worry he has lost some of the momentum he had after launching his presidential campaign in March.
“He’s got to focus on what got him here — the grassroots, viral marketing,” said Austin McDonald Scott, a 32-year-old Fort Worth man who attended the event. “And something that will ignite passion.
“He’s got to find his thing.”
Eva McGuire, a 61-year-old Joshua woman, showed up to hear what O’Rourke had to say.
She voted straight ticket Republican for years, until last year, when she voted for O’Rourke. But she wants to hear more about what he stands for and about his policies.
And she believes that Democrats should support whoever wins the party’s presidential nomination next year, whether it’s O’Rourke or someone else.
Critics across the street from the event showed up to support the current president.
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,” she said.
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 (Sanders),” 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, a Fort Worth man who also stood across the street with his 11-year-old son, encouraged people to boycott the Flying Saucer because it hosted the O’Rourke event.
He believes O’Rourke is encouraging illegal immigrants to come into the United States, which Basham believes takes jobs away from other Hispanics who are here legally.
“Free college, free medical insurance for everybody,” he said. “There is nothing for free. It is costing the citizens of the United States for people to sit on their butts and get everything for free.”
The RNC weighed in on O’Rourke’s campaign as well.
“Beto O’Rourke can jump on the all tables and counters he wants, his policies would still rob Texans out of their paychecks with his $5 trillion climate change initiative and support for government-run healthcare,” RNC spokeswoman Christiana Purves said in a statement. “Maybe he should be more grounded with Texans who are seeing all the benefits of the roaring economy thanks to President Trump and Republicans, like the lowered unemployment rate and the more than 500,000 jobs that have been added in Texas.”
Tarrant County has long been considered a Republican stronghold; Texas is considered a crown jewel for Super Tuesday, when voters in 10 states head to the primary polls on March 3, 2020.
The percentage of Tarrant voters backing Republicans in presidential elections matched the statewide results in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Tarrant County “is critical,” O’Rourke said. “We won Tarrant County (in 2018) by the skin of our teeth and lost the state by the skin of our teeth.”
O’Rourke is the fourth Democratic presidential candidate to campaign in Tarrant County this year, following U.S. Sen Kamala Harris in March, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in April.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was nearby Friday, in Dallas, for a sold-out private fundraiser.
O’Rourke will give the commencement address at Paul Quinn College on Saturday in Dallas.