Beto O’Rourke’s first official rally since launching his presidential campaign took place today in El Paso, Texas. He has two more rallies scheduled for later today: one in Houston and then a final one later in Austin. Local police reported early on that the crowd size of his first rally was between 1,000 to 2,000 people, David Siders from Politico noted, but by the end of the event O’Rourke’s campaign was saying the attendance was closer to 6,000 by the time the event was over. During the event, O’Rourke shared details of his platform and warned the crowd that unrestrained money had corrupted their democracy, but together they could turn things around. Read on to see highlights and quotes from O’Rourke and the rally, along with crowd photos.
Here’s the 1,000-2,000 estimate from Politico. This was reported around 11:20 a.m., earlier on.
And the 6,000-estimate from his campaign was reported around 12:50 p.m. It’s possible that the crowd size discrepancy is due to more people showing up later. If more information becomes available from local police estimates explaining the difference, we will update this story.
This is O’Rourke’s first big rally in El Paso since he was part of a counter-protest when President Donald Trump visited in February. For that event, somewhere close to to 10,000 showed up. Today’s event took place from 10-11:30 a.m. MT (11 a.m. Central/12 p.m. Eastern.)
The rally was held outside at the corner of El Paso Street and Overland Ave. Here’s a photo showing the stage in the middle of a packed area downtown. You can see that a huge number of people did show up.
Beto’s wife, Amy O’Rourke, spoke at the El Paso rally, along with a DACA recipient. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar also spoke.
A small number of Trump supporters set up about a block away to protest.
Here’s another look at the crowd greeting O’Rourke.
But the rally wasn’t without its tense moments. A suspicious package was seen and police were on the scene, moving the crowd back.
After his wife Amy spoke an introduced him, Beto O’Rourke came to the stage with the music of Clampdown by The Clash playing. And yes, Beto wore his trademark blue button-down shirt.
Beto said it was important to have the kickoff rally in El Paso — it was the city where he was born and where he and his wife are raising their kids.
He said they’re a safe city “because we are a city of immigrants and asylum seekers.” He added, “We have learned not to fear our differences but to respect and embrace them…”
“This community has offered my inspiration in life and every single opportunity I’ve had.” He thanked the teachers who taught him, the small business community that helped them start a business, and the leaders of the City Council who showed him what true leadership is. One example, he said, was extending health care to same-sex partners.
“We ran a race against the odds and against the establishment to represent El Paso to the United States Congress.”
He said that one of the issues they focused on was veteran suicides from long healthcare waits and the war on drugs that became a war on people.
“We got to be part of something absolutely transformational in our lives,” he said about the Senate race, adding that they expanded the number of Democrats who turned out for elections in Texas.
“This state saw young voter turnout up 500 percent over the last midterm election,” he said. “This state and its 38 electoral votes count like they’ve never counted before. All of us have a seat at the table. All of us matter.”
Then he added, “This is a campaign for America, for everyone in America… In this defining moment, Amy and I want to know that we’ve done everything in our power for this country.” He said that although this will require a sacrifice, especially to his kids, he also knows that their children and other children are depending on them.
“This is our moment of truth and we can’t be found wanting. The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetime.”
He listed the economy benefiting the wealthy, a healthcare system that doesn’t let people live to their full potential, and climate change as being among those great challenges.
We must overcome these challenges, but we must first ask ourselves, how did this wealthiest and most powerful country on the face of this planet … has found itself in such a perilous position? For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless. They have used fear and division in the same way that our current President uses fear and division based on the differences between us of race, ethnicity, religion, and geography… Unrestrained money and influence has warped the priorities of this country. It has corrupted our democracy.”
Beto said that when voting rights are withdrawn, not expanded, “we run the risk of becoming a democracy in name only.” He said that for those who have experienced gross differences in education, justice, economic advancement, and health care, the idea of a democracy representing everyone feels like a lie. No matter what their differences, “let those differences … not divide us at this moment. Let’s agree going forward, before we are anything else, we are Americans first.”
Then he said, “If you believe in guaranteed, high-quality universal healthcare … then let us ensure that universal healthcare means all of us can see a primary care provider, all of us can get mental healthcare health … and every woman makes her own decisions about her own body.”
He said they can give every business the choice to enroll in healthcare without eliminating current plans that people like. He advocated universal, guaranteed high-quality health care without also eliminating current plans that people enjoy.
Beto then advocated for investing in a world-class public school system from Pre-K to 12 and paying teachers what they are worth. “There is no reason why any educator … should be working two or three jobs when they have the most important job right in front of them.”
He then pledged to strengthen unions in the United States, and to lift up rural America by investing in hospitals, schools, and infrastructure to ensure every farmer and rancher can make a profit to feed and clothe not just America but the rest of the world.
He then pledged to provide incentives for capturing carbon emitted in the air.
“I want to make sure that your gender, your race, your family does not prevent you from advancing in this economy.”
O’Rourke advocated equal pay for women, paid family leave for all families, banning workplace discrimination, and ensuring access to capital for communities effectively shut out up until now.
O’Rourke also advocated for ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunging arrest records for everyone arrested for possession, and ending for-profit prisons. He spoke of confronting the legacy of communities criminalized for the color of their skin. He also advocated for confronting the continuing suppression of people of color and acknowledging and confronting the damage slavery has done. O’Rourke also said that every Dreamer should be freed from the fear of deportation and he wants to reunite immigrant families that are still separated.
He said they need to focus on the ports of entry, not building a wall. We will support our border patrol agents, he said, and they will treat every American with dignity and respect. “If we’re really serious about security, we have a golden opportunity … to work on comprehensive immigration reform.”
O’Rourke also discussed bringing the military home and addressing climate change, and the need to strengthen alliances with other nations. Climate change, nuclear disarmament, and ending wars can be done with these alliances.
He also promised to sign a new voting rights act that ends gerrymandering and gets big money out of politics, along with automatic and same-day voter registration.
The event ended with a huge round of applause from his supporters, and then he set out for the next two events for his big kickoff day.