The University Democrats hosted Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke for a meet and greet in Nau Hall Tuesday evening. O’Rourke spoke twice — once to about 250 University students and community members in Nau Hall’s auditorium and afterward to hundreds more people tightly packed throughout the building’s three story atrium. According to University Democrats President and third-year College student Jackson Samples, Nau Hall was the only available space on Grounds for the event to occur.
O’Rourke — who served in the House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019 — formally announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election March 14. Rather than running for re-election for his seat in the House of Representatives, O’Rourke decided to run for U.S. Senate in 2018. He was defeated by about two percentage points against incumbent Republican Senator, Ted Cruz. The close race came as a surprise to many, given that the state of Texas has historically tended to be deeply Republican.
During the event, O’Rourke spoke briefly about what he hopes to do if he becomes the Democratic nominee and potentially the president. O’Rourke covered many prevalent policy issues including gun control, immigration rights, marijuana legalization, health-care, abortion rights, criminal justice reform and climate change.
“I hope decide to expand healthcare even further than we did last year to enact common sense gun legislation and gun safety reforms and take the steps necessary ... to connect with not just Democrats, but Independents and Republicans alike,” O’Rourke said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.
Moreover, O’Rourke made it clear that the Democratic party alone cannot resolve all of these issues. O’Rourke said he cares less about one’s religion, ethnicity or political party affiliation than about a cohesive American identity. To O’Rourke, with everyone united, there will be change in the midst of a polarized and tense political system.
“To write no one off, take no one for granted — I think it is what not only the Democratic party needs right now, but what this country needs at this very divided highly polarized, hyper-partisan moment, so I hope to offer that,” O’Rourke said.
Additionally, O’Rourke said his campaign is ready to capitalize on the young energy college-age students hold, which is one of the very reasons he came to speak at the University. In his home state of Texas, young voters played a pivotal role in narrowing the margin in the race against Cruz.
“We just witnessed in Texas something absolutely transformational,” O’Rourke said. “A state that was 50th in voter turnout, that now has a seat at the table is participating as beginning to fire on all cylinders — that transformation was led by young people. We saw a 500 percent increase in voter turnout amongst young people in Texas, that drove so much of the stunning election night results from members of Congress for state reps and state senators, for people running for judicial positions across the state.”
Regardless of whether or not O’Rourke wins the nomination, he believes that the Democratic party must stand together to prevent Trump’s reelection.
“My confidence is in the American people, and in the Democratic Party, knowing that come summer 2020 after our convention… all of us are going to get behind whoever the nominee is,” O’Rourke said. “It could be me, it could be someone else and whoever she or he is, if we are united behind them and with them, we’ll defeat Donald Trump”.
According to Samples, the organization had worked closely with the O’Rourke campaign in order to coordinate this event. O’Rourke’s stop in Charlottesville came during a tour throughout Virginia — stopping at The College of William and Mary and Hampton University earlier in the day. The campaign reached out to University Democrats about hosting O’Rourke for a campaign stop only one week before the event, according to Samples.
Samples says that there is potential for more candidate meet and greets. He believes that the more Democratic candidates that can interact with University students, the better.
“We plan on inviting several Democratic candidates to Grounds this coming Fall,” Samples said in an email statement. “With so many Democrats running in the 2020 primary, it is imperative that students are able to hear from as many candidates in an in-person setting as possible.”
Second-year College student and attendee Liv Brashears said that she believes that O’Rourke possesses the right qualities to unify the American people.
“Beto is a super charismatic candidate who has an empowering and uplifting vision for the country,” Brashears said. “I think above all else, his willingness to listen to all people, young or old, liberal or conservative, is what makes him a viable candidate.”