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Beto O'Rourke ends 2020 campaign after bid for Democratic nomination failed to take off

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Image: Beto O'Rourke speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Conventio
Beto O'Rourke speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.   -   Copyright  Scott Eisen Getty Images file
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Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Friday after a disappointing campaign that failed to build off the momentum generated from his longshot Texas Senate run.

"Though today we are suspending this campaign, let us each continue our commitment to the country in whatever capacity we can," he wrote in an email to supporters.

Lagging in the polls and with fundraising, O'Rourke had yet to qualify for the Nov. 20 debate sponsored by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

O'Rourke, who represented El Paso in Congress, entered the race as one of the most talked-about candidates following his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz in deeply conservative Texas in 2018. After his loss, Democratic activists in states that hold early presidential voting contests, including Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina, formed "Draft Beto" groups, which raised money and tried to line up supporters for a potential 2020 bid.

Despite the initial jolt of interest from voters and the media, his campaign failed to find footing following debate performances that were highly critiqued and consistent struggles to crack double digits in polls.

O'Rourke repeatedly rejected pleas — including from The Houston Chronicle's editorial board — for him to drop out of the presidential race and run again for the Senate in Texas.

His campaign ran on an urgent need to fight climate change and corporations and overhauling the American health care system — though he stopped short of endorsing Medicare for All. He supported legalizing marijuana and received plaudits for the ways in which he discussed racial disparities in America.

O'Rourke shifted his focus toward gun control following an August mass shooting in El Paso, going farther than most other Democratic candidates in supporting not just background checks and an assault weapons ban but a mandatory buyback program.

"Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," he said during September's Democratic debate in what would become something of a campaign slogan for him. "We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore."