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Beto O’Rourke’s New Approach to 2020: ‘Taking the Fight to Donald Trump’


Over the last two weeks, Mr. O’Rourke has been a more resonant figure in the primary contest, speaking out from his wounded city in raw and emotional terms. And he has flashed glimpses of the traits that made him a hero to liberals in the midterm elections — his willingness to confront a right-wing adversary in plain language, for one, and his authentic passion on issues of immigration and national identity.

It remains to be seen whether Democrats are likely to find Mr. O’Rourke a similarly affecting spokesman on matters far outside El Paso and the immediate circumstances of the tragedy there. He has been facing a chorus of pleas, from Democrats in Texas and Washington, to leave the presidential race and run again for the Senate, challenging Senator John Cornyn, a senior Republican. Mr. O’Rourke has consistently rebuffed those entreaties.

An editorial in The Houston Chronicle this week urged him: “Beto, come home. Texas needs you.”

Mr. O’Rourke may still struggle to stand out in the presidential primary: He is far from the only Democratic candidate to blame Mr. Trump for creating a toxic and dangerous social atmosphere that has left Latinos and other minority groups vulnerable to violence. Nor is he the only candidate to design his campaign schedule around acts by Mr. Trump and other Republicans that Democrats find appalling.

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and a fellow Texan, has been running ads on Fox News decrying the El Paso massacre that targeted people who “look like me.” In July, Mr. Booker, the New Jersey senator, crossed over the border with Mexico and returned with several migrants seeking asylum. And last week he delivered a searing speech on race at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., the site of another mass shooting by a white supremacist. In May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York campaigned in Atlanta after Georgia’s Republican-dominated government enacted strict new limits on abortion.

And around the Democrats’ first debate in Miami, a number of leading candidates — including Ms. Warren and her Senate colleagues, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders — visited a South Florida detention facility that was holding migrant children.

Asked if he saw himself as a distinctive voice in that crowd of candidates, Mr. O’Rourke said he did not think of his decision that way. But he felt he had a perspective to share, he said, grounded in his experiences in El Paso.

“I don’t always keep tabs on what all the other campaigns are doing,” he said. “I just know very clearly what it is that I have to do, and the urgency with which I feel it.”

Mr. O’Rourke added, “It has to change you, when this happens to your community.”


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