WASHINGTON • Democrat Beto O'Rourke plunged into the party's crowded presidential nomination race, banking on the star power and fund-raising prowess he demonstrated during his run for the Senate in Texas last year to prevail in a months-long primary campaign.
The former Texas congressman narrowly lost the contest to Republican Ted Cruz, 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 (S$108.5 million) in mostly small donations.
Mr O'Rourke announced his run via video, skipping the traditional set-piece speech in his home state and foreshadowing an unconventional approach to the campaign.
He headed directly to Iowa for a three-day trip to meet voters who will be taking part in the state's caucuses next February, the first official contest in the nomination race.
"I'm running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America," Mr O'Rourke said in the video yesterday. "This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us."
Mr 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".
"This moment of peril produces perhaps the greatest moment of promise for this country and everyone inside of it," he said.
The announcement put an end to months of speculation and doubts about Mr O'Rourke's intentions that were stoked by his musings on blog postings as he travelled about the country after leaving the US Congress at the beginning of January.
Early polls of potential Democratic nominees put Mr O'Rourke in the top tier of candidates. But his challenge now 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.
Democrats are also awaiting a decision by former vice-president Joe Biden, who remains popular in the party and would enter the race as the front runner.