Beto O'Rourke ends his bid for the presidency

Rebecca Morin and Ian Richardson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who was seen as a rising Democratic star following his viral Texas Senate bid in 2018, ended his presidential bid Friday.

O’Rourke said in a statement posted on Medium that his "service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee," adding that it is in the best interest of the Democratic Party and his campaign to unify around the nominee.

“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully," he said.

O’Rourke’s announcement comes as he’s struggled to gain movement in the crowded field. He was averaging 2% in national polling, according to a rolling average Real Clear Politics. He also only had met the requirements for two out of four polls needed to make the November debate stage.

President Donald Trump was quick to weigh in on the Texas Democrat’s decision, referencing a Vanity Fair profile that was published a day before O’Rourke announced his candidacy.

“Oh no, Beto just dropped out of race for President despite him saying he was ‘born for this.’ I don’t think so!” the president wrote in a tweet.

O'Rourke's announcement came as a surprise to supporters who were waiting for him to speak ahead of the Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines Friday night. The dinner is an iconic event ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Supporters pulled signs out of the grounds set up outside of the event after learning the news of O’Rourke dropping out of the race. Some O’Rourke fans — some who had been out rallying for him before his planned speech at the Liberty and Justice Celebration — hugged each other and cried. People in the crowd still wore their “Beto 2020” T-shirts. Others took off the shirts and held them while waiting for the candidate to speak.

"I had no idea this was coming. I was shocked, I was really shocked," said Liliana Herrara, 18, a native Texan in Des Moines. "I came out here to support him, but now I need to decide my choices moving forward ... He had a great run, he didn't compromise his integrity."

Another 18-year-old student, Jared Parnell, drove down from South Dakota to hear O'Rourke speak in Iowa. He saw the news that his chosen candidate was leaving the race after he arrived. 

“I’m pretty shattered,” he said through tears. "I thought he was really what this country needed and that he could give us what we needed, but apparently others didn’t think so.”

Happening in Iowa: Candidates, supporters descend on downtown Des Moines before historic fall dinner

The news seemed to take some of O'Rourke's staff by surprise as well. They had arrived near the Democratic Party's dinner site before the sun rose Friday, and had decked out decorations in the event space alongside every other campaign before O'Rourke's announcement came. 

The New York Times reported that O'Rourke was not expected to run for Senate in Texas, where Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn is up for reelection race. Polling in the Lone Star State, as well as supporters in Texas, previously showed that O'Rourke has strong support if he entered the race. O'Rourke has repeatedly said throughout the campaign that he will not run for Senate.

"I will not in any scenario run for the United States Senate," O'Rourke told MSNBC in August.

O'Rourke said during a press conference that the last place he visited before heading to Des Moines was Newton, Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings took place in 2012 that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.

He said the families and young advocates against gun violence in the community inspired him.

“It’s always been the young people of this country willing to serve, to struggle, to sacrifice, who have brought us to our senses, who have brought us to a better place than we would have been otherwise," he said. “That’s why we were in this fight that’s why we will stay in this fight in whatever capacity I can and why I’m so grateful I was in this fight as a candidate with you.“

When O'Rourke first announced his presidential candidacy in late March, he dominated headlines and hit his polling peak. He raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. By the end of the first quarter, he had raised $9.4 million. 

In the Vanity Fair interview, O'Rourke weighed in on running for president saying, "I want to be in it." He went on on to say: "Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment."

He was criticized for the comment, with some pointing to the fact that he had just lost a Senate race but believed he could win a presidential race. In addition, a number of memes surfaced based on the magazine's cover image of him, which was shot by prominent photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Despite initial media attention that documented many of his campaign stops and quirks, O’Rourke’s campaign began to slump during the summer months. He raised only $3.6 million in the second quarter and fell to the lower single digits in polling.

In early August, O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso was the site of a brutal mass shooting targeting Latino residents where 22 people were killed. O’Rourke, who was previously on the El Paso City Council and previously represented the city in Congress, canceled several days of campaigning to be with his community.

He then restarted his campaign less than two weeks later. Gun control became one O’Rourke signature issues. He promoted a mandatory buyback program in which gun owners would be required to sell certain weapons back to the government.

“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during the September debate, which came weeks after the El Paso shooting.

However, O'Rourke's campaign continued to struggle. He only raised $4.5 million in the third quarter, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders led the pack with $25.3 million.

A number of 2020 Democratic candidates immediately thanked O'Rourke Friday for his candidacy.

"Your commitment to ending gun violence and uplifting the voices of the victims and their families has made this presidential race — and our country — stronger," Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote in a tweet. "I look forward to working together in the fight to end gun violence."

Sen. Kamala Harris thanked O'Rourke in a tweet for "running the race you did and for always speaking from the heart."

"Your passion for your community and conviction to create a future free from gun violence have enriched this campaign and shown us the leader you are," Harris wrote.

Sen. Cory Booker wrote on Twitter that O'Rourke "brought his heart and soul to this race."

Julián Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and fellow Texas, wrote on Twitter that O'Rourke "inspired millions of Americans all over our country, and rallied Texans and El Pasoans after the tragedy that struck his hometown."

"I am thankful for his voice and his continued leadership, and I look forward to working together in whatever he chooses to do next," Castro wrote.

Robin Opsahl of the Des Moines Register contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Beto O'Rourke ends his bid for Democratic nomination for Election 2020