Beto O'Rourke heads to Iowa as 2020 speculation reaches fever pitch

PHOTO: Beto ORourke attends the "Running with Beto" Premiere 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre, March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas.PlayMatt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW
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Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke will make his first trip to Iowa as a potential presidential candidate this weekend, a move that fuels the near-constant speculation that he is days away from entering the crowded field of Democrats in the race for the White House.

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O'Rourke announced on Monday that he will head to Iowa to campaign for state senate candidate Eric Giddens, who is running in a special election on March 19th that has attracted the attention of other 2020 contenders like Senators Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.

"Supporting [Giddens] for state Senate is the way that we get Iowa — and by extension, this country — back on the right rack," O'Rourke said in a video posted to Twitter by Giddens. "[University of Northern Iowa], we're counting on you, and we're looking forward to seeing you soon. Adios."

A spokesman for O'Rourke, Chris Evans, confirmed the trip and added that the former congressman will be in Waterloo on Saturday "to kickoff an afternoon of canvassing, GOTV, and grassroots organizing," for Giddens.

O'Rourke has also been running ads on Facebook teasing an upcoming announcement, another sign that he is looking to engage the base of supporters he gained during his Senate bid.

"People in communities across the country have been reaching out and asking me if I'm planning on running in 2020," read one ad that was still active as of Tuesday afternoon. "Amy and I have made a decision on that. Sign up today to be first to know what's next. I’d like for you to be a part of it."

O'Rourke's possible foray into the presidential race would be the culmination of an unlikely political rise that began with the 3-term congressman's decision to challenge Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Texas.

His unorthodox and ultimately unsuccessful Senate campaign, which shunned traditional strategists and instead relied on the candidate's organic appeal, broke fundraising records and earned O'Rourke a national profile that catapulted him into the presidential discussion.

PHOTO: Beto ORourke and Oprah Winfrey talk during Oprahs SuperSoul Conversations at PlayStation Theater, Feb. 5, 2019 in New York City. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
Beto O'Rourke and Oprah Winfrey talk during Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations at PlayStation Theater, Feb. 5, 2019 in New York City.

But in the aftermath of his loss the prospect of a presidential bid remained unclear, and O'Rourke was panned by some for his decision to embark on a solo road trip where he chronicled his interactions with everyday Americans as he mulled his next political move.

Aides to O'Rourke have continued to remain tight-lipped about the Democrat's future plans, but the upcoming travel is the clearest signal yet that a presidential candidacy is in the works.

However the trip to Iowa this weekend comes as O'Rourke appears to have lost early ground against his potential Democratic rivals.

While a December 2018 Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers showed O'Roruke garnering 11 percent of the vote, a poll by the same outlet released this past weekend showed his support had dipped to just 5 percent.

But with his potential appeal in the Democratic field and a general election still unknown, the Club for Growth, a prominent conservative organization, recently released a five-figure television and digital advertising buy in Iowa assailing O'Rourke's "blue-blood pedigree," and labeling him a "scion of a political family," referencing the wealth of his real-estate developer father-in-law.

"Beto O’Rourke has long sold Democrats a bill of goods, pretending to be a liberal superstar while exploiting his father-in-law’s connections to climb the political ladder. It’s time Democratic voters in Iowa know who the real Beto O’Rourke is – an entitled, corrupt political climber," Club for Growth Action President David McIntosh wrote in a statement.

The announcement last month that he had made a decision on his political future followed a high-profile interview with Oprah Winfrey in early February, where O'Rourke said we would make a decision on a presidential run by the end of the month.

PHOTO: Rep. Beto ORourke speaks to constituents outside of a polling location at Nixon Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, Nov. 6, 2018. Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks to constituents outside of a polling location at Nixon Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, Nov. 6, 2018.

"We want to play as great a role as possible making sure that this country lives up to our expectations, to the promise, to the potential that we all know her to have," O'Rourke said.

A few weeks after that interview O'Rourke led a counter-rally during President Donald Trump's visit to El Paso, an enticing split-screen that provided him with a platform to directly take on Trump in his hometown.

The former congressman also visited the state of Wisconsin last month, meeting with students at a technical college in Milwaukee and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

If O'Rourke does declare a presidential bid he will be the at least the 15th Democrat to enter the Democratic race and vie for the chance to unseat President Donald Trump.