Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke was virtually unknown until he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last year for his seat in the Senate. Although O'Rourke lost, he still made history, coming the closest any Democratic candidate has in decades to winning a statewide election in the deeply conservative Lone Star state.
The night he lost to Cruz, there was already speculation that he would run for president in 2020. His senate campaign broke fundraising records without accepting money from corporate donors or political action committees and his authentic door-to-door campaign style made headlines. During his 'Beto for Senate' campaign, O'Rourke visited all 254 counties in Texas, talked to voters during 328 town halls, and raised $30 million more than his opponent.
Since the senate election, he hasn't shied away from politics. In February, O'Rourke spoke at a march celebrating El Paso’s immigrant culture at the same time that President Donald Trump was holding a Make America Great Again rally a short distance away. Their remarks on how to handle immigration and security at the U.S. Mexico border were in direct contrast.
"We are making a stand for the truth, against lies and hate and ignorance and intolerance," O’Rourke said. "El Paso has been the safest city in the United States of America not in spite of the fact that we’re a city of immigrants but because we are a city of immigrants."
Trump responded by calling O'Rourke a "a young man who’s got very little going for himself."
In February, the former congressman said he wouldn't be challenging Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in his 2020 run for reelection. That announcement only ramped up speculation about a run for the White House.
O'Rourke enters the 2020 field ahead of a visit to Iowa, the first state that will vote in the presidential primaries. His declaration makes him the 15th Democrat to join the already diverse and crowded group of candidates trying to unseat President Donald Trump.
The rock star turned businessman turned politician will have the benefit of name-recognition. However, he will likely be pressed about whether he has enough experience to be elected to the highest office in the nation.
Here's everything you need to know:
Name: Robert Francis O'Rourke. At a young age, his family started calling him "Beto," short for Roberto in Spanish. Conservative outlets have questioned the authenticity of his nickname, arguing he used it to win elections in a state that is 40 percent Hispanic. During the 2018 midterm elections, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, released an ad with the lines "liberal Robert wanted to fit in, so he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin." O'Rourke did not directly respond, but later tweeted a childhood photo in a sweater with "Beto" stitched on the front.
Date of birth: Sept. 26, 1972
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Early life: O'Rourke was born and raised in El Paso. His mother, Melissa O'Rourke, owned a furniture store. His father, Patrick O'Rourke, served as a county judge, commissioner, and eventually switched parties to make an unsuccessful run for Congress as a Republican. O'Rourke left El Paso to attend Woodberry Forest School -- a private, all-male boarding school in Virginia. After he graduated, he interned on Capitol Hill for a fellow Texan, former Democratic Rep. Ronald Coleman. He attended college at Columbia University in New York where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in English.
What he does now: Businessman. His 2016 financial disclosure shows he is an investor and owns real estate in El Paso.
What he used to do: After O'Rourke graduated from Columbia University he worked a series of odd jobs in New York: as an art mover, part-time nanny and at a small internet-service provider. He originally dreamed of being a writer and landed his first full-time position as a proofreader for the publisher H.W. Wilson Company.
In 1998, O'Rourke returned to El Paso.
"I missed family, the way of life in El Paso," O'Rourke told Texas Monthly.
A year later he co-founded Stanton Street Technology Group, an IT consulting and web design company.
Stanton Street hired "dozens of people in high skill, high-wage jobs that one might not expect to see in a border community," according to his website.
As a business owner, O'Rourke became heavily involved in the El Paso community as a member of groups such as the Rotary Club and United Way. His community service inspired him to run for the El Paso City Council, where he served two terms.
In 2012, he challenged an eight-term congressman in the democratic primary to represent Texas' 16th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He campaigned on foot, knocking on "every door he could find." His efforts paid off and he won the primary with 50.5 percent of the total vote.
The heavily Democratic district sent him to Congress and re-elected him for a total of three terms. In Congress, he held town hall meetings every month and advocated for immigrant rights, holding Customs and Border Patrol accountable and improving mental health resources for veterans. O'Rourke served on the Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs Committees.
In 2018, he gave up his seat to run for the Senate.
Key Moments from his Senate Run: When O'Rourke announced his Senate candidacy, The Texas Tribune wrote "it is hard to overstate how unknown this third-term Democrat is in both Texas and Washington." By the end of his campaign, he was attracting bigger crowds at some rallies than Cruz. Fox News referred to the "fandom" as "Betomania."
Cruz did not publicly acknowledge O'Rourke until he won the primary election. He chose to first attack the authenticity of "Beto" -- a move that partially backfired when people pointed out Cruz's given name is Rafael, not Ted.
In August, O'Rourke gained national attention when a video of him defending NFL players who kneel during the national anthem went viral. Comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that she wanted to meet him, and then he appeared on her show in September. DeGeneres was one of the first celebrities to endorse O'Rourke, but was later joined by Beyonce, LeBron James, Jim Carrey, Travis Scott, and many more. Several celebrities wore "Beto for Senate" apparel. Cruz repeatedly used this celebrity support against him.
Throughout the campaign, O'Rourke often livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram to talk politics with his followers from "relatable" settings, such as his car and Whataburger, his frequent restaurant of choice. The Cruz campaign mocked his love of the fast-food chain, calling O'Rourke a "triple meat Whataburger liberal who is out of touch with Texas values." O'Rourke responded with a video of himself ordering a Triple Meat Whataburger.
Cruz and O'Rourke publicly debated twice before the election. Cruz tried to depict O'Rourke as radical and O'Rourke pressed Cruz on his dedication to Texas.
A few weeks before the election, Trump, who once nicknamed Cruz, "Lyin' Ted," hit the campaign trail to urge Texans to re-elect him.
What you may not know about him:
- He is fluent in Spanish.
- O'Rourke was in a rock band called "Foss" with three of his friends. They "staged American tours" during their summers home from college, playing throughout the U.S. and Canada.
- He can skateboard. A video went viral of him skateboarding through a Whataburger parking lot during his Senate campaign run.
- Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and O'Rourke live-streamed their "bipartisan road trip" on Facebook from San Antonio, Texas, to Washington D.C. after their flights were canceled because of a blizzard. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared it on his page and they were later awarded the Prize for Civility in Public Life.
- OpenSecrets has estimated his net worth was almost $9 million in 2015.
- O'Rourke has been arrested twice. In 1995, he sneaked into a physical plant at the University of Texas at El Paso with friends. He spent a night in jail, but no charges were filed. In 1998, he was arrested for driving under the influence. The charges were dismissed after he completed a DWI program. He has addressed it publicly saying he is "grateful for the second chance."
ABC News' John Verhovek, Lissette Rodgriguez, and Kendall Karson contributed to this report.