Beto O’Rourke brought his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president to Chapel Hill on Monday, and it didn’t take him long to connect with the crowd at the Student Union on UNC’s campus.
“Tar,” O’Rourke shouted, initiating the familiar call and response with the crowd retorting, “Heels!”
The line of those hoping to attend the event had wrapped around the building waiting for O’Rourke earlier in the afternoon. The candidate, meanwhile, was traveling across the Tar Heel State, with stops in Charlotte and Greensboro before Chapel Hill.
O’Rourke stood on a podium in the middle of the crowd, speaking with his patented energetic delivery and accompanying hand motions.
“At this moment, we want to make sure that we do not define or limit ourselves by our differences or our divisions,” O’Rourke said, “that we bring this country around together to confront the most serious challenges that we have ever faced.”
The El Paso native, who represented the border town in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives from 2013 through 2019, continued his calls for inclusion while delivering segments of his address in Spanish.
“Everyone must be able to participate; everyone must be able to vote; everyone must count in this great democracy, if we are going to make it.”
To reach a more inclusive democracy, O’Rourke called for the elimination of gerrymandering in drawing political districts and for increased voter registration efforts.
“And I understand in North Carolina, you understand something about gerrymandering in this state; you understand something about voter ID laws intended to keep some people out of the ballot box,” O’Rourke said. “And you also understand that the solution to this is not to complain, not to demean, not to denigrate others, but to ensure that we’re lifting one another up.”
When speaking about health care policies, an attendee asked O’Rourke why he didn’t support a single-payer model, saying that the country did not have time to waste for those who are dealing with illnesses.
“You and I agree on this point, we do not have time to allow people to continue to waste away, to die of diseases that are otherwise curable or preventable,” O’Rourke said. “That cost us a hell of a lot more than we would spend on universal health care in the first place: either the opportunity costs that we are now out because they’re not able to literally lead the lives that would benefit our lives, or the cost of taking care of someone in a county jail or in an emergency room exponentially more expensive than preventatively and continuously going forward.”
Rounding out issues that are likely to be included in the Democratic primary debate, O’Rourke focused on climate change as one of the greatest challenges facing policy makers.
“Two 500-year floods in just two years from [hurricanes] Matthew and Florence,” he said. “You guys should be set for 1,000 years. But the scientists say that the one degree Celsius this planet has cooked since 1980 is responsible for the devastation that we see here in North Carolina, in my home state of Texas where 58 inches of rain dropped out of the sky in one storm.”
O’Rourke rose to national prominence in his failed race for the United States Senate in 2018 when he lost to incumbent Republican Ted Cruz. He is now running in a crowded field of Democrats looking to take on Donald Trump in the run for the White House in 2020. The Democratic primary in North Carolina is scheduled for next March.