Emerging from a crush of College of William and Mary students, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke took the stage to loud cheers and applause in the college’s Trinkle Hall Tuesday afternoon.
“Thank you for welcoming this stranger from West Texas,” O’Rourke said to the crowd before launching into his routine brand of stump speech: authentic and calling for an end to political knife fighting in Washington, D.C.
“To come together not for a person, or a candidate, or a party, but for our country at this defining moment of truth for the United States, (for) the greatest set of challenges that we have ever faced,” O’Rourke said of climate change, partisan politics and the inequalities of everyday life for millions of Americans.
Before the former Texas Congressman from El Paso took the stage, hundreds of William and Mary students stood waiting, watching in winding lines in front of Trinkle Hall in anticipation of his arrival.
Sophomore Katherine Zabinski, 19, of Smithfield, wanted to see O’Rourke because she watched his close election defeat against incumbent Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Cruz won re-election with 51 percent of the vote in a tight race against O’Rourke, who ran less on his record as a congressman than a campaign of inspiration that caused some to liken him more to former presidents Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy.
Zabinski, a history major, said she thinks O’Rourke’s campaign of optimism could give voice to a younger generation of Americans who yearn for political power and representation in the nation’s capital.
“I think he’s holding down a lot of the base Democratic ideologies, but I feel like his stance on immigration and health care are a little bit forward for this election,” Zabinski said, adding she couldn’t elaborate further.
"We do not have a crisis in our country,” O’Rourke said to crowd. “We do not have a crisis in resources. We do not have a crisis in security. I want to dispel any myths that it somehow causes harm to us to follow our own asylum laws that are on the books that I would argue this president is breaking right now.
“If we’re only addressing the problem after (refugees) have traveled 2,000 miles, perhaps it is too late.”
While O’Rourke was in Williamsburg to campaign for the Democratic Presidential nod, he also said he was stumping for Virginia’s Democrats before the 2019 elections.
He was introduced by Democratic 2nd District Congresswoman Elaine Luria, who introduced O’Rourke in front of the hundreds of awaiting college students.
“I didn’t have the privilege of serving at the same time in Congress as Beto did, but I came right after him,” Luria said. “His reputation preceded him.”
While his own presidential campaign is on O’Rourke’s mind, so is America’s deep political divide in the wake of the 2016 election that brought Trump to the White House.
“This is the test of all tests for us, (Trump)’s hateful … unless we defeat him in November 2020 it will continue,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why this campaign is so focused on everyone … trying to bring this country together to meet its challenges.”
O’Rourke seeks the Democratic nomination for president along with 17 other contenders.
William and Mary Young Democrats President Cody Mills said he hoped the organization would be able to bring more presidential hopefuls to town before the 2020 Democratic primaries.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.