Source: O’Rourke ready to ‘push the button’ on presidential campaign

Beto O’Rourke apologizes for jokes about wife
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Beto O'Rourke

Former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke is ready to “push the button” to launch his presidential campaign, with the announcement expected to first come on social media, a source familiar with his plans told CNN.

Aware that the 2020 Democratic primary is quickly taking shape, O’Rourke is set to announce his candidacy this week, rather than launching an exploratory committee.

He will also travel to eastern Iowa beginning Thursday with a meet-and-greet event in Burlington, Democratic sources in the state said.

The three-day itinerary for his first visit to the early-voting state is intended “to allow space for him to meet voters,” said another Iowa Democratic official, who spoke to O’Rourke’s advisers. The trip will end Saturday with a get-out-the-vote push for a state Senate candidate in Waterloo, followed by an event in Dubuque. A Friday visit to Des Moines was considered initially, but isn’t currently in the works, as O’Rourke plans to devote all three days to introducing himself to voters in eastern Iowa.

O’Rourke is in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, this week ahead of his Iowa trip. On Monday, in a short video recorded outside his house, he wore a University of Northern Iowa cap as he urged students at the school to vote in the Democratic candidate in the state Senate special election.

A photographer was seen leaving O’Rourke’s house late Tuesday morning, and a close team of aides who worked on his 2018 Senate had gathered in town.

Signs that an announcement is imminent had popped up on social media, as well. On Facebook, O’Rourke’s page — which had not paid for any advertisement since his failed bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz had ended — began promoting more than 300 ads urging people to sign up to be the first to know whether he will run for president.

O’Rourke has spoken to several Democratic advisers in recent weeks, some by telephone and others during visits to El Paso. A recurring theme emerged, according to people familiar with the conversations, with O’Rourke saying he would only seek the Democratic nomination “if he could be himself” and run an unconventional campaign similar to his Senate bid where he is able to meet directly with voters.

On Monday, O’Rourke’s aides committed to a trip to northeastern Iowa to help Eric Giddens, a Democrat running for the state Senate. O’Rourke’s camp is being advised in Iowa by Norm Sterzenbach, a veteran Democratic strategist who recently ended a contract with the Iowa Democratic Party in order to prepare to join a presidential campaign, sources familiar with his plans said.

Paul Tewes, who was Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa state director, has also been advising O’Rourke, a source familiar with his role said. Sterzenbach, Tewes and multiple advisers close to O’Rourke did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to O’Rourke’s trip to Iowa, he is also planning to visit other early states in the primary calendar. Some Democratic operatives who have been working on a draft movement have been in contact with O’Rourke aides and are expected to be folded into the campaign.

The developments underscore how quickly O’Rourke — a little-known congressman before he raised $80 million in his Senate run against Cruz — is assembling a national team, something other candidates spent much of last year preparing to do.

In a statement to CNN and other news outlets last month, O’Rourke said, “Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country. We are excited to share it with everyone soon.”

All signs since have pointed to moving forward with a campaign for president. O’Rourke’s team recently teased his upcoming “big announcement” in emails to supporters, and he has been building out a national campaign staff, CNN previously reported.

Following the premiere of an HBO documentary chronicling his unsuccessful 2018 US Senate campaign, “Running with Beto,” at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, this past weekend, O’Rourke deflected a question about his 2020 plans by praising local candidates featured in the film.

“There are so many candidacies, so many leaders, who we got to be a part of this amazing thing in Texas over the last two years, and it continues, and we are so excited,” he said. “We just want to continue to be a part of it.”