Beto O’Rourke gets the New Hampshire perspective on presidential politics

  • Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke stands alongside campaign aide Cynthia Cano as he waits to be introduced at the Common Man Inn & Restaurant in Claremont on Wednesday. O’Rourke will be in Portsmouth, Manchester and Laconia on Thursday. MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staff

  • Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke walks to the front of the room after being introduced at the Common Man Inn & Restaurant in Claremont on Wednesday. O’Rourke is visiting all 10 of New Hampshire’s counties over the course of three days. MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staff

  • Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke speaks at Common Man Inn & Restaurant in Claremont on Wednesday. O’Rourke is visiting all 10 of New Hampshire’s counties over the course of three days. MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 3/20/2019 5:39:08 PM

In the midst of a 48-hour whirlwind tour across all 10 New Hampshire counties, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke acknowledged he has a learning curve as he runs for the White House.

“Yeah. Oh yeah. I am smart enough to know that there’s so much more for me to learn,” the former three-term congressman from Texas said Wednesday. “The only way for me to learn that is to show up in the communities I seek to serve, and hear things from people’s perspective.”

The candidate – who narrowly lost his 2018 bid to unseat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz – made his comments in a question-and-answer session with reporters following an event at Plymouth State University. The stop was his third during a jam-packed 48-hour swing through all 10 of New Hampshire’s counties.

O’Rourke got a good dose of perspective from young, liberal New Hampshire voters who are looking for the best candidate to take down Trump.

“Young people want somebody different and we’re ready to show the older generation this is who we are and we’re ready for change and we’ll do it anyway we can,” said Renee Hall, a Plymouth State student from Sutton. “And if this guy is the perfect guy who we think is good, we’ll support him no matter what.”

Hall said the parade of candidates has been a lot to take in, but she’s leaning toward O’Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

O’Rourke “has feminist ideals and it’s great to see a man have that, and in my view it’s very attractive as a candidate to have,” Hall said.

O’Rourke came to Granite State riding on a bubble of momentum, having raised a significant $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after he announced his candidacy last Thursday. But also making headlines were a series of missteps right out of the gate.

This past weekend, O’Rourke apologized for joking at several events on Thursday and Friday that his wife, Amy, had been raising the couple’s three children “sometimes with my help.” He acknowledged his comments evoked unwelcome gender stereotypes.

“Not only will I not say that again, but I’ll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage,” he said.

Correcting the record, O’Rourke said “Amy and I are raising those kiddos.”

During his speech to a couple hundred people at Plymouth State and the ensuing scrum with local and national political reporters, O’Rourke took aim at the sale of assault weapons, skirted his stance on late-term abortions, and called for pre-kindergarten starting for 4-year-olds.

Asked by a member of the crowd about his opinion on assault weapons, O’Rourke repeated his stance that such firearms should be for military use only.

“If you own something like an AR-15 and I’m your president, keep it. Continue to use it responsibly. I don’t want to take anyone’s guns from anyone in the country,” he said.

But he said the AR-15, “which is a variant of something that was designed for battlefield use – I see no reason for it to be sold into our communities.”

Speaking with reporters following the event, O’Rourke was asked how he would have voted on a controversial GOP-sponsored Senate bill that would have required doctors to provide medical care to newborns, including those born during failed abortions. Most Senate Democrats slammed the bill – which failed to reach a 60-vote threshold – as politically charged.

“I would have listened to the women that I wanted to represent in the state of Texas. I would have listened to doctors and medical providers. I would have looked at the facts and understood the truth. And then I would have voted with those women to make their own decisions about their own bodies,” O’Rourke answered, as he failed to say how he would have voted on the bill, which became a political lightening rod.

The answer was similar to how O’Rourke has fielded questions about abortion since launching his presidential campaign last week.

The candidate gave a hint of his support for abortion rights by adding that “I’ve seen the effects of regressive women’s health care policies in Texas, the inability to get much-needed medical care. ... I want to make sure at a national level we don’t make those mistakes.”

As a three-term congressman representing El Paso in the U.S. House, O’Rourke supported a bill in 2017 that would have lifted most state restrictions on abortion, including waiting periods.

Abortion has become a pressing issue in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with fears by the party that the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court could roll back abortion rights that have existed for generations, while conservatives have accused prominent Democrats of indifference to infanticide.

O’Rourke also repeated his push for universal pre-kindergarten, starting at the age of four.

He said he’d partially pay for the program by asking “the very wealthiest to pay a greater share of their wealth.”

And he said that “it’s going to cause us to spend more upfront, but we’re going to see much greater return economically in taxes paid down the road from people who are earning far more than they would have otherwise.”

Janet Dearborn, a Plymouth resident, said she’s leaning toward O’Rourke.

“I was a former Bernie (Sanders) supporter and I loved Bernie, but I’m just getting the feeling that Beto may be better. I love Kamala Harris too. And I love Elizabeth Warren. We just need somebody who can beat Trump,” she added.

Explaining why she likes O’Rourke, Dearborn said “he’s just got this energy that he projects. He’s positive. I like that. Everybody else tears everybody else down and he’s not doing that. He wants to bring us all together.”

Marsha Roosevelt, who traveled to the event from Sugar Hill, pointed to O’Rourke’s “commitment to reaching and talking to anybody and he’s seemed to have done his homework.”

Asked if the media mania surrounding O’Rourke’s campaign launch has been a bit too much, Roosevelt said “it’s part of the circus.”

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