On the Trail: Getting to know Beto 

  • Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke talks with guests during a campaign stop in Derry, N.H., Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke shakes hands during a campaign stop in Derry, N.H., Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke gestures while addressing guests during a campaign stop in Derry, N.H., Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

For the Monitor
Published: 4/18/2019 5:36:21 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was on fire last month.

The former three-term congressman from El Paso, Texas, had just launched his White House bid, was soaring in the polls and was posting eye-popping fundraising figures as he basked in generous media attention and large crowds on the campaign trail.

But O’Rourke isn’t the fresh new thing anymore in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The spotlight’s shifted in recent weeks to South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s popularity has surged over the past month.

O’Rourke says he isn’t concerned. The crowd of 200-or-so people at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Thursday seemed to back him up.

“I feel great,” O’Rourke said. “I feel like we’re in a good place.”

As he does at nearly every campaign stop, he took audience questions during the first two events of his two-day swing through the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.

“I think more than any other candidate, we’ve been showing up answering questions,” O’Rourke said. “I think we’ve answered nearly 600 questions so far in a little bit more than a month and have visited more communities. That’s what I want to do. That’s democracy.”

O’Rourke invoked the New Hampshire tradition of giving voters access to the candidates.

“We show up for everyone. We take no one for granted,” he told an audience gathered at Gibson’s, which has become a must stop this cycle for Democratic presidential contenders.

Noting to the crowd that it was his second stop in Concord since declaring his candidacy, O’Rourke joked that “I have no prospect of winning your vote on the first or second or third or fourth visit,” but said maybe by his fifth visit he’d win their support.

Earlier, at Derry’s Grind Rail Trail Café, O’Rourke spoke about education, climate change and illegal immigration. O’Rourke, who’s a fierce critic of Republican President Donald Trump on the divisive issue, stressed that he wants to “completely, comprehensively re-write our immigration laws in our own image.”

And he gave New Hampshire a shout out for its efforts to pass a paid family leave law.

“We want an economy that works for all. I’m going to make sure that we follow your lead in New Hampshire, passing paid family leave to take care of yourself, your kids, your parents,” O’Rourke said.

The Democratic-controlled state Senate and House have passed a paid family and medical leave bill, but it faces a potential veto from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has proposed a plan of his own.

Asked about protecting a free press, O’Rourke argued that it was essential for the government to respect the press.

“It doesn’t help when we have a president who describes the press as the enemy of the people instead of the best defense against tyranny, which is what I have always believed,” he said.

Getting to know Beto

Janine Woodworth, an independent from Manchester who says she’ll vote in next February’s Democratic presidential primary, told the Monitor she came to Concord to find out more about O’Rourke since she hasn’t made up her mind.

“I want to find out what it is about Beto that speaks to people,” Woodworth said.

There are six female candidates running for the Democratic nomination. But she said that’s not her top concern.

“It’s the right candidate that matters. It doesn’t matter what gender they are,” Woodworth stressed.

Sarah Crow, a Democrat from Canterbury, said O’Rourke’s in her top five list right now. But she added, “right now I’m leaning toward the people with a little more experience.”

“I’m curious. I want to see him in person like I’ve seen a bunch of the other ones,” Crow said.

Jackie Winn is a bit biased. The Democrat from Concord’s son works for O’Rourke’s campaign.

“We’ve been fans of his for a long time” she said.

“His energy,” she added. “He is what he seems to be. All of the energy, the caring for people, the work ethic, is for real.”

Madeleine Ambrose, a Plattsburg, N.Y., resident, was also at Gibson’s.

The Democratic voter was vacationing in Massachusetts, but drove up to Concord wearing a Beto O’Rourke T-shirt. She said she likes what she’s heard so far.

“He is not divisive and I am concerned very much about the state of our democracy and the divisiveness that is going on in our country today, and I think he is one of the persons who can bring us together,” she said.

Swalwell’s long shot

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has been a frequent guest in New Hampshire since last autumn. But he returned Thursday as an official Democratic presidential candidate.

The 38-year-old former prosecutor from the East Bay area of northern California had a busy itinerary in the Granite State, which included a couple of private meetings in Concord with Democratic lawmakers and activists.

Swalwell, a long shot for the White House, spoke about his big plans for the future.

“Our campaign’s going to compete with other candidates in this race by offering a bold agenda of solutions on health care, gun violence, the environment and education that take out of this crisis governing structure that we’re in,” he said.

The newly announced candidate vowed that “we’re going to be competitive. We’re not only going to raise the dollars we need. We’re going to be on the ground on the places we need to go.”

Swalwell, who sits on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, was interviewed as a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation report was being released by U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Swalwell joined many other Democrats in charging that Barr was trying to defend and protect Republican President Donald Trump.

“The attorney general can represent the United States or he can be Donald Trump’s defense attorney. He can’t be both. And as we saw at this press conference today, the way that he mischaracterized the Mueller report, he is seeking to help Donald Trump. He should resign,” Swalwell told the Monitor.

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