Former Democratic Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke on Tuesday firmly declared "I have been thinking about running for president" and said he would make a decision before the end of February.
O'Rourke, 46, narrowly lost a Senate bid to Texas Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in November but became a national political phenomenon in the process, raising $80 million primarily from small donors and drawing comparisons to President Barack Obama for his speaking style and message of unity.
His entry would in the fast-developing Democratic field would immediately make him a top contender, largely because of his wide name recognition among Democrats and his extensive fundraising network.
While O'Rourke has previously hinted he was considering a presidential bid, his public profile seemed to dip recently as other Democrats announced their candidacies. That, in turn, fueled speculation his interest in a possible candidacy had dimmed.
His comments Tuesday, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey set to air Feb. 16, were forceful and drew shrieks of glee from many in the studio audience.
Describing to Winfrey how he had spent the months since losing to Cruz, O'Rourke said had driven alone in his truck through New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas, where he had been invited to dinner by a kind stranger and his family.
The trip, O'Rourke said, had renewed his interest in contributing to the national dialogue, and that he and his wife, Amy, had decided "we want to play as great a role as possible in making sure this country lives up to our expectations, the promise, the potential we all know her to have."
"So are you in limbo right now trying to figure out what to do?" Winfrey asked.
"I've been thinking about running for president," he said, adding he had given himself a deadline of the end of February to decide.
O'Rourke said his main consideration was whether his wife and their three children, ages 12, 10 and 8, were "all good" with the decision.
While generally projecting an upbeat view of the country and its challenges, he criticized President Donald Trump's push for a border wall as a "racist response to a problem we don't have." O'Rourke's home city of El Paso sits on the U.S.-Mexico border.