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O’Rourke candidacy asks: Can a moderate white male win the 2020 Democratic primary?

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O'Rourke candidacy asks: Can a moderate white male win the 2020 Democratic primary?

MOUNT VERNON, Iowa (Reuters) – As he had done at several stops in his first campaign trip as a presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke on Friday climbed atop a counter at a local Iowa business and addressed a small but adoring crowd. People clapped and cheered. Outside, some waited in the cold, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. 

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic former Texas congressman, addresses supporters before an anti-Trump march in El Paso, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By that measure, his tour across eastern Iowa last week was largely a success. But by no means was O’Rourke considered a front-runner. And that underscored the challenge he faces as he competes for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

O’Rourke, a former three-term U.S. congressman from Texas, became a celebrity last year when his longshot bid to unseat U.S. Senator Ted Cruz drew national attention and a torrent of money. But ultimately, his fame was not enough.

That loss led some critics to wonder why someone who couldn’t secure a Senate seat would then think he should run for president.

That is not his only obstacle. O’Rourke, 46, is a wealthy, white man from a conservative-leaning state who is more moderate on several key issues than many of his competitors. Given the energy among progressives in the early stages of the race and the diversity of the Democratic field, O’Rourke would appear to be everything that many in party say they do not want.

More than a dozen Democrats have declared their candidacy to take on President Donald Trump in next year’s election, including six women. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California would make history as the first black woman to gain the nomination. Julian Castro, a former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would be the first Hispanic to do so. Another contender, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is openly gay.

O’Rourke also must grapple with the enduring popularity of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive who remains a formidable adversary after battling Hillary Clinton in 2016, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is weighing a presidential bid.

Even so, none of them are on the cover of the latest issue of Vanity Fair, as O’Rourke is. His interview with the magazine sparked controversy on social media last week when he said he was “born” to run for president. Critics also found fault with his oft-repeated joke on the trail about how he “helps” raise his three children with his wife, Amy.

To his detractors, it smacked of white male privilege. O’Rourke grew up affluent, attended the Ivy League’s Columbia University, and married the daughter of a real estate baron. His estimated net personal wealth is more than $9 million.

His image in his race against Cruz, however, belied that background. He fashioned himself as the scrappy underdog, a former punk rocker who was battling the establishment, visiting every county in Texas in a Dodge minivan and holding numerous town halls where he fielded questions from the public.

It was a strategy he took to Iowa last week, going so far as to rent another Dodge minivan that he drove himself and shooting a fundraising video on Facebook of him filling its gas tank.

O’Rourke differed from many of his liberal competitors by talking frequently about how he worked with Republicans in Congress to improve care for veterans in his home town of El Paso, Texas. Asked whether he was a true “progressive,” he referenced President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican.

O’Rourke maintained that his campaign would be relentlessly optimistic – and he only rarely rebuked Trump. “We will not belittle or demean or vilify other candidates,” he said in Mt. Vernon. “We will not define ourselves in contrast to others or say who we are against.”

His policy positions were largely nonspecific. He championed universal health care, immigration reform and combating climate change, but largely said any reforms would have to be pragmatic and incremental.

Occasionally, O’Rourke showed self-awareness of his status as a wealthy, white male, telling crowds that he had been given opportunities denied to minorities and describing the U.S. economic system as imperfect and racist.

He also found that despite the media attention he has received, he was not a household name in Iowa. “I didn’t even know who he was until two days ago,” said Sam Jennison, the owner of the bar in Mount Vernon where O’Rourke held his event.

But for the most part, those who attended his events spoke of him glowingly and dismissed concerns about whether he was progressive enough. “Issues are very important,” said Cathryn Layer, 65, of New London, Iowa. “Winnability is another thing.”

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“We need a moderate Democrat, and we probably need a white male because that is not threatening to a lot of people,” said Holly Manon Moore, 65, of Fairfield, Iowa, who said she is undecided in the race and would want a person of color to be the vice-presidential nominee. “If we go too far left, we’re going to lose.”

At the close of his Iowa trip, it remained unclear how O’Rourke’s entrance would reshape the Democratic race. He notably declined to reveal how much money he raised in his first few days as a candidate.

But he did have an impact. At the same time O’Rourke was in eastern Iowa, so was one of his competitors, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. And while the size of the crowd that came to see her on Saturday was comparable to those at O’Rourke’s events, there were far fewer journalists present.

Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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Trump says he does not mind if public sees Mueller’s Russia probe report

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Trump says he does not mind if public sees Mueller's Russia probe report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he does not mind if the public is allowed to see the report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing about his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any possible links to the Trump campaign.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“Let it come out, let people see it, that’s up to the attorney general … and we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“We’ll see if it’s fair,” he added.

Mueller is preparing to submit a report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on his findings, including Russia’s role in the election and whether Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied interfering in the election.

Barr already is coming under pressure from lawmakers to make the entire document public quickly, though he has wide latitude in what to release.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 420-0 last week on a non-binding resolution calling for Mueller’s report to be released both to Congress and to the public, but it is not clear how the measure will fare in the Senate.

Asked if the public should be allowed to see the report, Trump said: “I don’t mind.” He said he had no idea when it would be released.

As he has before, Trump questioned the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation.

“I had the greatest electoral victory – one of them – in the history of our country, tremendous success, tens of millions of voters and now somebody’s going to write a report who never got a vote,” he said.

Mueller was appointed to handle the Russia investigation in May 2017 after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been overseeing the effort. Mueller has previously held several senior positions in the Justice Department, including FBI Director.

Reporting by Steve Holland; writing by David Alexander and Andy Sullivan; editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis

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Clarence Thomas makes rare intervention during Supreme Court arguments

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Clarence Thomas makes rare intervention during Supreme Court arguments

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas surprised court watchers on Wednesday when he made a rare intervention in court arguments — asking a question in a case where a death row inmate is challenging his conviction and sentence.

Thomas, who is the only African-American and the only Southerner on the court, asked his rare question toward the end of arguments in a case involving a black Mississippi death row inmate, Curtis Flowers, who was tried six different times for the 1996 murders of four people in a furniture store.

CLARENCE THOMAS BACKS TRUMP’S CALL FOR CHANGING DEFAMATION LAW TO EASE SUITS AGAINST MEDIA

Flowers’ lawyers claims a white prosecutor had a history of impermissibly using jury strikes to exclude African-Americans from the jury.

The Associated Press reported that a clear majority of the court appeared “troubled” by the actions of the prosecutor — District Attorney Doug Evans — in the prosecution of Flowers.

Thomas asked if Flowers’ lawyers in the case had made similar decisions, and the race of any struck jurors. Lawyer Sheri Lynn Johnson said three white jurors were excused by Flowers’ lawyer.

According to The Washington Post, two of Flowers’ trials were hung, and convictions in three others were overturned because of misconduct by Evans.

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But the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his 2010 conviction, despite Evans striking five of six black jurors, arguing that Evans had race-neutral reasons for the strikes.

Thomas’ last questions in a case  were in 2016, and that was his first intervention in a decade. He has said previously that he relies on the written briefs and believes his colleagues interrupt too much.

Fox News’ Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trump says he doesn’t mind if public sees Mueller’s Russia probe report

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Trump says he doesn't mind if public sees Mueller's Russia probe report

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he does not mind if the public is allowed to see the report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing about his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any possible links to the Trump campaign.

Mueller is expected to send his report to Attorney General William Barr soon.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann

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