Unlike other presidential candidates who had mulled White House bids for months or even years before announcing their campaigns, O'Rourke only began being floated as a possible presidential contender after losing his Senate race against Cruz in November. O'Rourke went through a list of Democratic priorities, including health care, climate change, family separation and criminal justice reform, gesturing or chopping with his hands to emphasize each point.
Telling the diners that this is his first visit to Iowa, O'Rourke told them that he wanted to hear what's on their minds.
"You can probably tell that I want to run", he said.
"The only way to live up to the promise of America is to give it our all and to give it for all of us", he concluded.
Democrats have long dreamed that a booming Hispanic population and droves of Americans moving to Texas from elsewhere could turn the nation's largest red state blue and transform the Electoral College by making the Republican path to the presidency all but impossible.
Meanwhile, Gingrich compared O'Rourke, the former representative from Texas who almost defeated Sen. He raised about $80 million for his bid, most of it from small-dollar donations, and amassed a nationwide grassroots following while eschewing traditional campaign methods.
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While challenging Cruz, O'Rourke insisted that he had no interest in running for president, vowing to quietly return to El Paso should he lose.
"Most importantly, he'll build a movement that will rise above the toxic division in our politics and unite this country", she added.
His background as a former member of punk rock bands also endeared himself to younger fans.
And he was the only presidential prospect interviewed in February by Oprah Winfrey, who appeared genuinely excited about the prospect of an O'Rourke White House run. "It's a big part of why I'm running", O'Rourke told KTSM in a text message. "And, of course, he's someone that comes, like I do, from the center of the country". He is set to make the announcement official on Thursday.
"There's a certain group of people that are political in nature, and they just have a hunger for that", Jordan Grant, CC '96 and one of O'Rourke's teammates on the heavyweight rowing team at the time said. "I think I'd be good at it".