WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Democrat Beto O'Rourke plunged into the party's crowded presidential nomination race, banking on the star power and fundraising prowess he demonstrated during his run for the Senate in Texas last year to prevail in a months-long primary campaign.
"I'm running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America," O'Rourke said in a video announcement Thursday (March 14) morning. "This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us."
O'Rourke said one of the reasons he was entering the race is that "the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater."
The former Texas congressman narrowly lost the Senate contest to Republican Ted Cruz in 2018 but managed to build a nationwide following with his unconventional and optimistic style combined with a populist message that brought in almost US$80 million in mostly small donations.
O'Rourke planned on Thursday to head to Iowa, the site of the first 2020 caucus, one of the Democrats said, but word began to get out on Wednesday night.
Speculation and doubts about O'Rourke's intentions were fuelled by his musings on blog posts as he travelled about the country after leaving Congress at the beginning of January. "Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk," he wrote on Jan 16.
Early polls of potential Democratic nominees put O'Rourke, 46, in the top tier of candidates. But his challenge will be to show the party's voters where he fits between the unabashed progressive stances of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and centrists such as Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are attempting to straddle party factions with their campaigns.
Last month, O'Rourke and the man he hopes to unseat, President Donald Trump, held duelling rallies in Texas, with each using the president's proposed wall on the US-Mexico border as an early proxy for the 2020 election.
Vanity Fair published a long article about O'Rourke on Wednesday evening, with photographs by Annie Leibovitz. In it, he said of a presidential run: "I want to be in it. Man, I'm just born to be in it."