Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Presidential hopeful O’Rourke addresses S.F.

Beto O’Rourke draws in the crowd during a Town Hall-style event in San Francisco. Hundreds lined up for blocks to hear the candidate from El Paso, Texas.

Beto O’Rourke has a long, hard road ahead of him — he’s one of 23 Democrats (and counting) who want to be president. But unlike many politicians who want to brag about how great they are, O’Rourke says he wants to do something a little out there — he wants to listen.

O’Rourke made a Town Hall-style appearance to introduce himself and “hear from people like you about the ways we can move this country forward,” he said in an email sent to supporters a few days before the event.

The only problem was, at San Francisco’s Irish Cultural Center on April 28, it was almost an hour after the presentation was scheduled to start and there was still no sign of the candidate.

The guests talked loudly. Readjusted their bags. Studied each other and warily looked around. Vincent Casalaina of Berkeley took out a cellophane-wrapped deli sandwich…

Finally, a woman from O’Rourke’s team came onstage to tell the crowd why she liked him. Then Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who was elected in 2013 to be the U.S. Representative for California’s Second Congressional District, took his turn to do the same.

Then, in showmanship fashion, O’Rourke shot out of the sidelines with a shout of “San Francisco!”

Onstage, he exhibited all of the liveliness of a dance show emcee, and the crowd went crazy. The sin of being late was quickly forgotten.

The candidate introduced himself to Bay Area voters, pushed a message of inclusion that was not based on partisan affiliation, and shared his vision for running the nation.

A former congressional representative from Texas, O’Rourke recently ran against Republican Senator Ted Cruz for his seat in Congress in 2014. In a closely contested race that garnered national attention, O’Rourke, running as a Democrat, lost by a small margin.

In San Francisco, the crowd ranged from millennials to seniors, who arrived early and lined up for blocks to hear O’Rourke. An overflow room housed some of the more than 800 who attended, according to the San Francisco police.

Stoner Lichty, who wore a brightly-colored Beto T-shirt he’d just purchased, said he was from “here in the neighborhood.” As he waited calmly, Lichty commented, “I’m freezing to death.”

O’Rourke spoke for 25 minutes before he took about six questions from the audience, explaining that part of his role as a candidate is to listen to Americans’ concerns and find common ground. He was asked about things ranging from taqueria preferences to how he would handle the sharp barrage of criticism of his ideas if he became the nominee.

O’Rourke spoke about a plan to enroll anyone who can’t afford their employee-sponsored health plan’s monthly fee, or any health plan at all, into Medicaid, and how the current healthcare problem that connects public health to the justice system needed to be addressed.

Many people who cannot pay for mental health care get arrested in order to receive medical care, O’Rourke said.

“The largest provider of mental health care is the county jail,” he said.

Sometimes this care ends up being only a band-aid, O’Rourke said, but he plans to put more resources into fixing the problem and increasing access to care.

While O’Rourke outlined his proposals in the Bay Area, he was standing on Senator Kamala Harris’ home turf.

A few months ago, I went to see Harris announce her bid for president. I ended up watching her on YouTube outside Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. The line overflowed. More than 20,000 people came, according to the New York Times.

Harris worked in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in the 1990s, and twice served as the San Francisco County District Attorney. She also served as California Attorney General.

Many recent polls show Harris a little ahead of O’Rourke, according to the website, and one poll showed them neck-and-neck.

Harris’ experience as a prosecutor shows in her senatorial work and is excellent preparation for upcoming debates.

Both Harris and O’Rourke have shown they can work hard — and skillfully work the crowds.

The 2020 presidential race is still nascent. Much of the candidates’ fates will depend on who is best able to communicate a strong platform in the states with the earliest primaries.

Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first primaries, in February 2020, and the primary in California is March 3.

While O’Rourke pumped up the crowd inside, vendor Royce Vaughn tallied up his early returns outside the building. Vaughn sells T-shirts, hats, buttons and even mini-skateboard keychains that he’d printed with O’Rourke’s name.

His sales at recent O’Rourke events have been just as robust as last fall, during O’Rourke’s popular senate run in Texas, Vaughn said.

After traveling all over the country to different candidates’ rallies, Vaughn said he has also noticed differences in various supporters’ spending habits.

“The per-head average [at the O’Rourke rally] is a lot more than for someone like Bernie Sanders,” he said.

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