MADISON — Beto O’Rourke called Wisconsin “fundamental” to any hope Dems have of taking back the White House in 2020 during his first trip to the state after launching his presidential campaign.
And while he said the selection of Milwaukee to host the Democratic National Convention next year is “a good sign” and a recognition of the state’s importance, he added candidates have to take one further step: showing up.
“When we don’t show up, we get what we deserve, and that is to lose,” he told reporters Sunday morning. “So I’m going to show up everywhere for everyone, and I’ll allow no difference of geography or even of party to separate us or keep us from doing what we’re supposed to do, to meet the challenges that we face.”
The former Texas congressman and U.S. Senate candidate’s comments came after he addressed a crowd of supporters at a downtown Madison coffee shop.
Some 400 people gathered at the downtown Cargo Coffee to hear O’Rourke speak this morning, with around 150 waiting inside while 250 crowded the sidewalk outside. O’Rourke addressed both crowds, briefly standing on a metal chair just outside the coffee shop door before heading to a small stage inside to deliver a longer speech and take audience questions.
During his remarks, O’Rourke repeatedly pledged he would go everywhere and take “no one for granted” over the course of his campaign.
O’Rourke also framed the campaign as an opportunity to “fix our country” and democracy to ensure everyone is represented, elections are fair and big money has a lessened influence in races. He pledged not to take donations from PACs or lobbyists.
“No matter where you are, you are important to us and we need you in this defining moment of truth,” he said.
And he called for listening to rural communities in order to find answers to problems confronting farmers and others.
On Immigration and Customs Enforcement, O’Rourke said the agency should only be deployed “for those who truly pose a violent risk to our fellow Americans,” rather than those otherwise following the law.
And he noted ICE raids aren’t just an issue in President Trump’s administration, adding that they also occurred under former President Obama.
“This is something all of us have to own and face squarely in order to make this better,” he said.
O’Rourke, who said Saturday he would pick a female VP if he wins the nomination, admitted that the topic was premature.
Still, he added “it’s very hard for me to escape that conclusion given the record number of extraordinary women who are running along with me in this field.”
“I really think it makes a tremendous amount of sense,” he told the audience.
Asked after the event about his membership in a computer hacking group — called the Cult of the Dead Cow — as a teenager, O’Rourke said he is “embarrassed about” and “not proud of” some of the things he did in affiliation with the group.
But he added he hopes voters judge him by what he’s done since then in the community and in office and what he wants to do going forward.
The state GOP knocked O’Rourke, saying his campaign launch has turned into an apology tour.
“While there’s no doubt O’Rourke is an unabashed liberal with no interest in moving to the middle, his recent missteps show he is going to have a tough time living up to his party’s litmus tests and convincing the progressive base that he should be their nominee,” the party said.
The trip is O’Rourke’s second visit to Wisconsin this year after visiting UW-Madison and Milwaukee Area Technical College before he formally launched his campaign.
O’Rourke was scheduled to head to Milwaukee Sunday afternoon for a meet and greet with IBEW members, as well as a series of other events in the area, including an appearance at an Emerge Wisconsin training.
His next stops over the coming days are in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, according to his campaign.