On the day of President Trump's State of the Union address to Congress in February, O'Rourke sat down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey, and said he was thinking about running for president.
"We can free ourselves from the distinction of being the country that imprisons more of its fellow citizens than any other country on the face of the planet", O'Rourke said. O'Rourke, who critics say has offered little details about where he stands on myriad issues, will face a test on whether he can match up with policy heavyweights like Senator Elizabeth Warren of MA.
Like progressives such as Sanders, O'Rourke premised much of his appeal in the Senate race on his refusal to accept money from political action committees and instead raised $80 million from small-dollar donors - a national record for a Senate bid.
Mr. O'Rourke launched his campaign in an online video and made the first of a series of campaign stops Thursday in Iowa, where the Democratic nomination contest will kick off next year.
Building a national presidential operation, however, is a different matter.
Robert is O'Rourke's legal first name.
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Asked if he was more threatened by O'Rourke or former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump said: "whoever it is I'll take him or her on". But O'Rourke's momentum seemed to be revived in a big way last month amid the debate over building a wall along the Mexican border - right along his hometown of El Paso.
Of late, O'Rourke has tried to distance himself from some left-leaning candidates, such as Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of MA, whom Trump has derided as "socialists".
O'Rourke's long awaited entrance makes the Texas Democrat who lost his Senate race to Sen.
While offering few specifics about his vision for the nation, O'Rourke told Vanity Fair, "I want to be in it". Then he added: "Is he insane or is that just how he acts?"
"I've never seen anything quite like it", he said.
O'Rourke joins a widening field of Democrats who have announced exploratory committees including Cory Booker, Jay Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, former U.S. Rep John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bill Weld, Marianne Williamson, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.