O’Rourke’s Iowa Events Set Tone for Campaign

O’Rourke’s announcement was a contrast to larger announcement events by other Democratic candidates

While standing on top of a table in a tiny Iowa coffee shop, Beto O'Rourke told a crowd that the "coffee shop setting" is one example of how he plans to campaign across the country.

O’Rourke, who made a name for himself by visiting all 254 counties in Texas in his Senate midterms campaign, continued his personal approach the morning of his campaign announcement.

"It was thoughtful and confident not to go for the football stadium look of things, but to be more right next to people, to be answering their questions," said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

O’Rourke’s announcement was in contrast to larger announcement events by some of the other candidates for the democratic nomination.

Jillson believes it was a strategic move on O’Rourke’s part.

"That's the way to tell people: I'm listening. Donald trump is listening, he told you he would help you, he hadn't done it. I'm going to do it, but I have a very different way," Jillson explained.

O’Rourke served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was virtually unknown outside of his El Paso district until he mounted a competitive campaign for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s seat.

NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine interviewed O’Rourke shortly before his trip to Iowa. She asked him why he believes he can win a presidential election after losing a Senate race.

"We didn't win the race for Senate in Texas, but we got to be part of something that was profoundly positive," O’Rourke said.

"If you look at the other races that were won: 17 African American women who won judicial positions in Harris County alone, folks who won in what were thought to be safe Republican districts being the first Democrat to represent them in ages, so many more who are now running for office, who are engaged, who have voted for the first time," O’Rourke continued.

"We saw a 500 percent increase in young voter turnout. We may not have won this one election, but I think we set the stage for some wonderful things to happen in Texas and, by extension, the rest of the country," he added.

"It was a great race in terms of his personality fitting the moment, the fundraising letting him make the race a competitive run, and he came very, very close and floated the Democratic ticket statewide," Jillson said.

O’Rourke’s campaign announcement touched on several issues including immigration, climate change, and criminal justice reform, the candidate has not unveiled a signature policy.

"He should not become overly specific right out of the gate," Jillson said. "He needs to go with personality and energy early on and then craft the positions that he’s going to run on in a general election."

The next few days of O’Rourke’s campaign will be watched closely for cues on his fundraising capability and whether he’s laid the foundation to run a national presidential campaign.

"Scaling up to a presidential race is a very different deal," Jillson said. "We’ll see whether he can accomplish that."

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