Government

Beto O'Rourke makes good first impression in Eastern Iowa campaign stops

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke speaks during a Friday campaign stop at the Sing-A-Long Bar and Grill in Mount Vernon. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke speaks during a Friday campaign stop at the Sing-A-Long Bar and Grill in Mount Vernon. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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MOUNT VERNON — The introduction went well.

A hundred or more people who met Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who earlier this week joined the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, came away impressed with his energy, his vision and his contrast to President Donald Trump.

“There’s a lot of issues he’s on the right side,” Roger Schnittjer of Mount Vernon said after meeting O’Rourke on what the Texan called the “second day of running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America.”

“He has a lot of energy,” added Becky Douglas of Belle Plaine.

O’Rourke is scheduled to be in North Liberty at 10:15 a.m. Saturday for the St. Patrick’s Day 5K Run; in Waterloo at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Black Hawk County Democratic Party headquarters; and 8 p.m. Saturday in Dubuque at 410 Shrewsbury Lane.

O’Rourke on Friday acknowledged that energy and excitement going into the next election. It’s not necessarily for him or even for the Democratic Party, he said while standing on the bar at the Sing-A-Long Bar and Grill in Mount Vernon.

“It’s around the energy we all feel at a moment of truth that will define us forever,” he said. It’s about “our eagerness to participate, to make sure we are up to the challenges before us, that we do everything we can in our power at this moment, for us, for the kids and grandkids we have, for the generations that will follow them.”

He was right that the excitement from the 50 people at the bar and about that many who listened from Yock’s Landing next door.

“We’re excited to have him as a candidate, but it’s pretty early to say we’ve made a decision,” said Alason Jones of Mount Vernon who attended with her husband and two children.

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Douglas, who liked his answer to her question about restoring dignity to the presidency and being an ally other nations could depend on, called O’Rourke a “honest, decent man … but I’m open to others.”

The United States has to reassert global leadership that Trump has squandered, O’Rourke said.

However, the responsibility for that falls not only on the next president, O’Rourke said.

“In a democracy where the people are the government and the government is on the people, those actions are done and taken in our name,” he said. “All of us shoulder the responsibility of making it better. That’s part of what this campaign and this election can be about.”

Earlier, O’Rourke — who almost wrested the U.S. Senate seat from Republican Ted Cruz in Texas in November — made stops in Mount Pleasant, Fairfield and Washington where he spoke and took questions for about 45 minutes in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd jammed at Cafe Dodici.

Later, O’Rourke was in Cedar Rapids where he was interviewed at Raygun for the Political Party.

He touted his refusal to take PAC money, access to reasonable health care by expanding Medicare and Medicaid and vowed to run a positive campaign and not attack other candidates.

“In this campaign, you will not hear me demean or vilify another candidate or really anybody,” he said.

Jose Maldonado, 33, an Iowa City man of Mexican descent wearing a “Beto” hat, liked O’Rourke’s passion as well as his stance on immigration, including finding a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. Maldonado also appreciated having a bilingual candidate in O’Rourke, who also speaks Spanish.

“He is very good at bringing a lot of people under his umbrella,” he said.

O’Rourke even impressed Republican Jenny Turner of Kalona, who asked whether O’Rourke felt embarrassed by the rush to judgment in the Jussie Smollett case, in which the actor is accused of making up a racist, homophobic attack by Trump supporters and whether young people should feel safe wearing a Make America Great Again hat.

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Turner, while she’ll not caucus or vote for O’Rourke, said she appreciated his answer that political attacks have no place anywhere in the country.

“I like him,” she said. “I like how he works hard to look you in the eye when he talks to you. He is genuine.”

He’s also “smart and articulate and can see the big picture,” Catherine Jones Davies of Anamosa said. “He also sees the consequences of policies — that’s refreshing.”

So while first impressions were positive, Jones’ “anybody but Trump” Republican husband, Jim, wasn’t ready to commit.

“He’s one of many we’re going to have to see,” he said.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are scheduled Feb. 1, 2020.

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

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