LAKEVILLE, Minn. — Democrat Beto O’Rourke made his presidential pitch to voters in Minnesota on Wednesday, April 8, telling a capacity crowd in Lakeville that he would work to fix the immigration and health care systems and address gun violence.
More than 100 people packed into the dimly lit taproom of Angry Inch Brewing while a few dozen more lined up in the rain and watched through the windows. Many in the crowd posed for selfies with friends and family before the event. They cheered as O’Rourke emerged from a minivan out front, greeted every person who stood in the rain and walked into the taproom soaking wet.
“I’m grateful to be in Lakeville, grateful to be in the great state of Minnesota (and) grateful to be in a brewery,” O’Rourke said to loud cheers.
The former congressman from El Paso, Texas, is polling in the upper tier of a crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination. On the national stage, O’Rourke has not drawn the same buzz that he did during his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate last year. He lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, by about 220,000 votes, but came closer to winning statewide office than any Texas Democrat in recent memory.
A national poll of Democratic presidential candidates released this week showed O’Rourke in sixth place with the support of 5 percent of respondents.
But in the Lakeville taproom on Wednesday, enthusiasm for his White House bid was high.
On immigration and health care
O’Rourke leaned on his Texan roots as he opened his speech, telling the crowd he would make immigration reform one of his top priorities. He denounced the Trump administration policy that separated migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as the president’s push for a multibillion-dollar border wall.
“We don’t need 2,000 miles of wall, 30 feet high at a cost of $30 billion,” O’Rourke said, adding that he would call for a permanent path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as minors.
Ellen Hock, a 33-year-old from Rosemount who works for the federal government, asked O’Rourke how he would close discrepancies in health insurance coverage. She said that her sister, who is a public school teacher in Dallas, has a high-deductible plan and was billed $5,000 for the birth of her child.
O’Rourke said the public should be able to “buy in” to Medicare if their employer-offered plan is not sufficient. His other stances on health care included protecting abortion rights and lowering the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs.
Hock was satisfied with his answer for the most part, but said she wished he would have gone a bit deeper on the policy behind it.
“He wants to do so much good for this country and you can feel that when he talks,” Hock said. “He reminds me of (Barack) Obama just in terms of the way that he eloquently addresses questions.”
On gun violence prevention, and other issues
Austin Berger, a 21-year-old from New Hope, said O’Rourke is a “good, moderate voice for the Democrats” who can galvanize a broad base of support.
He told O’Rourke that he motivated him to run for city council in his community, before asking about his stance on gun violence prevention.
O’Rourke responded that he supports universal background checks for gun sales and so-called “red flag” laws. He added that “weapons of war” should not be sold into communities.
His stances on other issues can be summed up in short.
On student debt: “There’s too much of it.”
On accepting money from political action committees: “For the last five years, I have not accepted any political action committee money. … In this campaign, we continue that pledge of no PAC money.”
2020 field comes to Minnesota
O’Rourke is the third Democratic presidential candidate to visit Minnesota in the past week.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg attended a private fundraiser in St. Paul last week and held a public event at the Fine Line music cafe in Minneapolis. And Democratic presidential hopeful and entrepreneur Andrew Yang held a rally at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis on Sunday, May 5.
O’Rourke was also scheduled to hold a town hall Wednesday evening at Edison High School in Minneapolis.