Government

O'Rourke seeks to unite country around shared priorities.

Beto O’Rourke listens to a question while campaigning at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Sunday, April 7, 2019. 

KC McGinnis for The Gazette
Beto O’Rourke listens to a question while campaigning at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Sunday, April 7, 2019. KC McGinnis for The Gazette
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IOWA CITY — He stood on a stage.

Not a chair. Not a tree stump. Not on a bar.

Beto O’Rourke stood on a stage at the University of Iowa Memorial Union on Sunday to address a hot, sweaty crowd of enthusiastic Democratic partisans. Not everyone was ready to commit to the former Texas congressman who is seeking their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. But they were interested in learning more about the source of what’s been dubbed “Beto-curiosity.”

“I want to know what the hype is,” Ebony Craig of Des Moines said as she waited for O’Rourke to take the stage.

Like Craig, Ann Gronstal of Coralville hopes to see as many of the Democratic hopefuls as possible before she commits to supporting one in the Feb. 3 first-in-the-nation caucuses. She’s struck by O’Rourke’s youth and energy.

Although O’Rourke and other younger candidates may lack the experience of their elders, Gronstal said, “he has more of a stake in the future.”

O’Rourke spoke with a sense of urgency when addressing health care, immigration and a changing climate — “not one that we have to prepare for, but one whose devastation we are seeing right now.”

He referred to Missouri River Valley flooding that is worse than anything seen as long as records have been kept. Unfortunately, extreme weather is becoming more common, “and it is going to become exponentially worse if we do nothing,” he said.

The consequences of global warming won’t be limited to extreme weather, O’Rourke added.

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“If you’re worried about 400,000 apprehensions at our southern border with Mexico, wait until some countries in the Western Hemisphere will no longer support human life,” he said. “The flows of refugees, the crisis we will then have on our hands will be absolutely devastating.”

After listening to a 25-minute stump speech, Julie from Kansas City wanted to hear O’Rourke’s elevator speech so “once you’ve got me convinced I can give that same speech to all of my friends.”

The key, O’Rourke responded, will be to “bring this divided country together around our shared challenges.”

“Pick a challenge — health care, immigration, climate, our economy. We’re not going to meet this challenge and overcome this challenge unless we do it together,” O’Rourke said.

That was the approach he took in his 2018 campaign for the U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

“We showed up everywhere, we listened to everyone … with a willingness to listen and to learn and see things from others’ perspective,” O’Rourke said.

Although unsuccessful in ousting Cruz, “I was able to run that campaign without compromising any on my values, on a proud, progressive agenda, but draw in independents, Republicans, expand the number of Democrats who participated, and young people turned out at a 500 percent increase over the last midterm election because of the way we campaigned,” he said.

He hopes his campaign is demonstrating his “ability to listen to, work with people, elevate the conversation, to define us by our ambitions and bring this divided country together around our shared challenges.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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