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Days after Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg lined up a slew of Hollywood heavyweights for exclusive Los Angeles fundraisers planned for May and June, another presidential hopeful, Beto O’Rourke, made his way to the city in a more low-key way.
After a Saturday morning stop in Las Vegas for a labor forum with other Democratic candidates, the former Texas congressman flew in to hold his first California kickoff at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College downtown. After the 46-year-old candidate took the stage to the thump of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” he delivered an 18-minute speech that leaned heavily on his meteoric rise during his Senate challenge to Republican Ted Cruz (he lost by 214,921 votes, or 2.6 percent, in November).
At the outset of his speech, O’Rourke referenced the apparent hate crime committed on Saturday — the shooting at a synagogue north of San Diego that left one dead and three wounded — pledging universal background checks for those looking to purchase firearms and to ban weapons that were designed for use by the military on the battlefield.
O’Rourke also reframed his own personal history in El Paso as a call to action. “We can share with our fellow Americans — as we did in Texas — that we will not purchase security with a $30 billion, 2,000-mile long, 30-foot high wall,” he told a receptive crowd, some of which were still wearing “Beto for Senate” t-shirts and cheered when he mentioned volunteers in the state.
O’Rourke’s stump remarks, punctuated by underlining his main points in both English and Spanish, didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name. “We are as divided as we’ve ever been as a country and we have a president that exacerbates those differences,” O’Rourke said. “He wants to make us angry. He wants to make us afraid and he wants to keep us apart.”
O’Rourke, who didn’t explicitly make a call to raise funds during his speech, has collected about $9.3 million in total individual donations to his campaign since it officially launched March 14. (In contrast, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has amassed $18 million and California Sen. Kamala Harris has raised $12 million since Jan. 21, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has raised $7 million and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has raised $6 million, federal disclosures show.)
The candidate was preceded onstage by remarks from Los Angeles City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who introduced a 16-year-old undocumented Dreamer who recounted growing up in the U.S. “If immigration is a problem, it is the best problem that the United States of America could have right now,” O’Rourke said to applause.
The soundtrack ahead of the 5 p.m. rally — held outside on the school’s quad and flanked by bleachers with waving, alternating American and California state flags — included garage-rock standards like Velvet Underground’s “Rock n’ Roll” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” Merchandise vendors sold “BETO”-emblazoned shirts, buttons and flags.
Since his March launch, O’Rourke has prioritized small rallies and has largely forgone, thus far, any nationally televised town halls or cable news interviews. That hasn’t been lost on observers in recent weeks as Buttigieg has gained ground in national polls and former Vice President Joe Biden has officially begun his campaign.
O’Rourke will next be taking his West Coast trip to town halls in San Francisco (Sunday) and San Diego (Tuesday).
In the parking lot after the rally, one attendee remarked about the relatively small exposure of Saturday’s rally: “One thousand of these is two minutes on cable news.”
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