Beto O’Rourke Raises $6.1 Million in One Day, Tours U.S. in Minivan

John McCormick
Beto O’Rourke Raises $6.1 Million in One Day, Tours U.S. in Minivan

(Bloomberg) -- His youthful vigor and social media skills allow him to hop onto coffee house counters in a single bound, drive himself to campaign events and raise $6.1 million in donations in a single day.

But Beto O’Rourke may be lacking a qualification some Democratic voters are looking for: a thirst for combat with Republicans and Donald Trump.

Campaigning across Iowa and Wisconsin during the weekend as a newly minted 2020 presidential candidate, O’Rourke frequently talked about his willingness to cooperate with those of differing political stripes. It echoed the sort of calls former President Barack Obama made during his 2008 campaign for political civility that became elusive during his tenure.

O’Rourke’s campaign said he raised a record-breaking $6.1 million in online contributions during the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy with no money coming from political action committees, corporations or special interests. That topped the $5.9 million raised by Senator Bernie Sanders in one day, and the $1.5 million raised by Senator Kamala Harris.

The fundraising success came as O’Rourke’s initial days on the campaign trail revealed vagueness in answers to questions posed by some voters, a willingness to apologize for past mistakes and stamina that could prove a major asset in a race where many of the candidates are significantly older than his 46 years.

The Texan’s approach contrasts with some other Democratic presidential candidates who have been highly critical of Trump and Republicans in general. It also risks making him look like someone who won’t throw punches at a time his party is searching for a candidate who can compete against Trump’s street-fighting style on a debate stage, Twitter and elsewhere.

Minivan Drive

O’Rourke’s weekend travels are part of a minivan drive east that’s expected to take him to New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first primary, after stops in other general election battleground states including Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

He announced his presidential bid Thursday and immediately started making appearances in Iowa, where the state’s caucuses will start the nomination voting in less than 11 months. Unburdened by the need to return to Washington for congressional business -- like many of his fellow candidates -- O’Rourke is showing signs that he may just keep driving until his formal campaign kickoff in his hometown of El Paso set for March 30.

The former Texas congressman’s bipartisan tone could be an advantage in a general election, but it’s an open question whether it will resonate with the progressive base that dominates the nomination process and is increasingly defined by its opposition to corporate America, the wealthy and Republicans.

‘Never Demean’

“We should never demean of vilify or speak ill of others who are running for these offices, even if they’re on the other side of the aisle,” O’Rourke said during a weekend recording of a local political podcast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Not only is that, I believe, the right way for us to act. It is perhaps the only way for us to accomplish our goal.”

That approach contrasts with some other candidates.Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are prime examples of those with more confrontational styles.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, campaigning Saturday in Waterloo, Iowa, also made a point of criticizing Trump several times during a speech Saturday inside a county party office.

“So sadly, that sense of community is fracturing right now,” Klobuchar said. “It’s fracturing because we have a president that tweets whatever he wants every single morning, but doesn’t respect the amendment that allows him to do it.”

Confronting Trump

To show her willingness to confront Trump, the campaign of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said Sunday that she would deliver her first major speech as a presidential candidate in front of Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City on March 24.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is believed to be close to entering the Democratic race, has also often praised bipartisanship. But that’s drawn criticism from Democrats, including last month when he called Vice President Mike Pence a “decent guy.”

Biden eventually walked back his compliment after he was tweaked by several declared presidential candidates, including Warren and Harris of California, as well as other Democratic activists and LGBT supporters who object to Pence’s record on gay rights.

Asked whether his candidacy could be put at risk by not looking like enough of a fighter, O’Rourke told Bloomberg that will be for the voters to decide.

People Decide

“Folks are obviously going to draw their own conclusions about that and so we’re just going to run our campaign, run it our way, bring as many people into this as we possibly can,” he said. “The great thing, at the end of the day, is that the people get to decide the answer to your question. So, we’ll see.”

Several voters at O’Rourke’s weekend events in Iowa said that while they want someone who can confront Trump, they also think more bipartisanship is needed.

“I’m glad that he’s civil,” said Ann Hetzler, 69, a retired state bar administrative worker from Muscatine who is leaning toward supporting Biden or Harris.

While known for sharing minute details from his personal life, O’Rourke can be less forthcoming on the campaign trail about his positions on issues. He sometimes seems more interested in generating a debate than clearly articulating his own views.

Non-Answer

When asked at a house party in Iowa on Thursday night whether he supports the payment of reparations to the descendants of slaves, what followed was an impassioned 214-second discussion about racism and civil rights leaders that never actually answered the question.

That sort of non-answer is a turnoff for some, including LeAnn Davis, a retired call center worker from Waterloo who saw O’Rourke speak Saturday and closely watched coverage of his Iowa trip on television. “I wish he’d quit talking on the topic of the question and answer it,” Davis said in response to vagueness she saw him offer on the Green New Deal.

O’Rourke did show a willingness to offer contrition for past errors. During the podcast taping, he acknowledged mistakes as a teenager and as a candidate following criticism about comments he made about his children’s dependence on their mother because of his absence and reports about fiction he wrote as a teen about murdering children.

“I’m mortified to read it now,” he said. “But I have to take ownership of my words and understand the ways that they make people feel when they read them now.”

(Updates with fundraising total starting in first paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at sforden@bloomberg.net, Mark Niquette, Tony Czuczka

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.