Beto O'Rourke says he's changed after massacre in hometown El Paso

O'Rourke shares about pausing his campaign to spend time in the city that raised him after a gunman murdered 22 innocent people there. "Nightline" explores his life and history in politics.
9:08 | 08/22/19

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Transcript for Beto O'Rourke says he's changed after massacre in hometown El Paso
recapture that magic. In the aftermath of a mass shooting. He may sound the same. We're going to be there for one another, no matter what the cost. That's how we bring this divided country back together again. But today Beto O'rourke is a different candidate than he was a few weeks ago. I'm going back there to be with my family. An alleged white supremacist. How does it change how you are running for president? It's changed me as a person to have someone come into this community and kill 22 people. To know that was inspired at least in part by the president. The killer using much of the same language the president uses in his manifesto. So El Paso was the straw that broke the camel's back? El Paso made it all too clear to us the consequences of Donald Trump. Reporter: The presidential hopeful stepped away from the trail to spend time in the place that raised him. To mourn and help his community heal. ? That tragedy yesterday will not be allowed to define us. Reporter: Becoming a voice for the Texas border town and an angry adversary to president trump. This president has sought to make this country afraid of places like El Paso. Reporter: His contempt for the president is palpable. This went viral on Twitter. Is there anything your mind that the president can do now to make this any better? What do you think? You know the He's been saying. He's been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. Members of the press, what the . The president is a white You believe that. I believe that. He makes the case far better than I could, right? If he calls clans men and Nazis very fine people. When he sends 5,000 U.S. Service members to communities like this one to line up against kids who are at their most desperate and vulnerable after having traveled 2,000 miles and calls those kids animals and puts them in cages. Reporter: We spent time with O'rourke and his family during that time away from the trail. What happened here broke your heart. Absolutely. Reporter: It also seems that it pissed you off. Yeah. Reporter: And it shows, for some people, the bulldog they want to see to defeat trump. I have for so long been talking about the racism of this president. But when 22 people are killed in your community, when you're attending funeral after funeral, that pisses you off and it makes it that much more urgent that we stop him. Reporter: He seems to have discovered purpose and refound his footing in a presidential bid that's struggled to gain traction, reminding some why the one-time congressman captured so many for the run for the senate against Ted Cruz. He made an effort to travel to every county in Texas. Just human beings. Real people making this happen. Reporter: And expanded his brand nationally through social media, live streaming everything. Celebrities like Willie Nelson flocked to the congressman, even Beyonce showing her support. But it wasn't enough. He narrowly lost in this deep red state where Democrats haven't won in decades. Tonight's loss does nothing to diminish the way that I feel about Texas or this country. I'm so Proud of you guys. Reporter: Even in defeat, admirers saw a promising presidential future. He appeared with president Obama and on vanity fair. But after he announced, he floundered in the polls and faltered in debates. We sat down with O'rourke and a group of Texas voters, all undecided. Can I ask you a question? We still like, in the democratic debates, is Beto being polite? If you're toe to toe with trump, how are you going to do this? We need a bulldog in there. Absolutely. This idea that you can release a canned attack line that you have rehearsed, that stuff is not me. I want to do a better job. I really do. But at some point, what is success like for you? And success is winning the nomination. Success is defeating trump. Reporter: Success for Robert Francis O'rourke may not have been a birthright but it was the expectation. He was a child of privilege. His mother a successful businesswoman and his father a politician and power broker. He was brash. He, you know, was not shy about speaking his mind. Reporter: Fluent in Spanish, the father gave his son the nickname Beto. Young Beto would choose his own path. The two still keep in touch. We were interested in skating, skateboarding. We were into punk music. Reporter: In high school he joined a hacking group called the cult of the dead cow, where he ran a bulletin board. He felt like an outcast, like he didn't fit in. Cult of the dead cow as it was known, provided a sense of can community. Reporter: At 15 he left el Paso for an all-male boarding school in Virginia, going on to Columbia university in New York. There he played in a punk band. Check this out. Four guys in a 1978 plymouth satellite station wagon, with our amplifiers, two changes of clothes between the four of us. Reporter: But at 25, the pull of El Paso led him home. The month after he returned he was arrested for drunk driving. Police reports indicate he tried to leave the scene which he denies. He discussed it with Ellen That mistake did not define I was able to go on and do these things that's a function that I'm a white man. Reporter: He met Amy Sanders, whom he would eventually marry. They have three children. In 2001, tragedy struck. His father was killed in a cycling accident. I hope I'm living up to the expectation that he set for me. I miss him terribly. Every day. Reporter: In 2005, O'rourke decided to run for city council and won. He would go on to be elected to congress in 2013. A prep schooler turned punk rocker turned politician, you may call it the many reinventions of Robert Francis O'rourke. He's back on the campaign trail, pledging to serve the underserved communities. Last week he went to Mississippi where I.C.E. Detained almost 700 immigrants earlier this month. I'm going to tell their stories. I'm going to make sure the rest of this country understands what's happening in our name. Reporter: But as he travels the country, his love for his state is so evident that one of the biggest papers in Texas wrote an editorial asking him to stay at home and run for senate, challenging Republican John Cornyn. You can run for president later. It's not a matter of age, it's a matter of this moment. We've never been tested lik we're being tested right now. The peril has never been greater. Reporter: If you couldn't beat Ted Cruz here. Right. Reporter: What makes you think you can beat Donald Trump? Texas. In 2018, a state that had been 50th in voter turnout. Reporter: Coming close is Yep. The other thing you need to know about Texas is there are 38 electoral college votes in this state. I can win those 38 electoral college votes. It's that movement, it's that candidate that it will take to beat Donald Trump. Reporter: Accustomed to the role as the outsider, Beto O'rourke is also at this moment a long shot, in a crowded field of democratic contenders. A city's heartbreak refocussed and reenergized his campaign. It's up to him now to rescue it. And a reminder. ABC news and univision will host the next debate the second week of September with George Stephanopoulos and linsey Davis and Jorge Ramos. Up next, despite physical challenges, this athlete's

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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