A day after announcing his gubernatorial campaign, former congressman Beto O’Rourke made one of his first campaign stops in San Antonio on Tuesday morning.

O’Rourke, who ran for president in 2020 and for the U.S. Senate in 2018 against Ted Cruz, served three terms in Congress representing his hometown of El Paso and was first elected to the seat in 2012. The Democrat greeted the crowd gathered outside of the San Antonio headquarters of the local Communications Workers of America chapter just north of downtown.

“I gotta tell you — it feels so good to be with all of you again and to be here in San Antonio,” he said to hundreds of cheering attendees, “and to have the chance to partner with the working women and working men of this community who have been on the frontlines each and every day through the toughest years that we have ever experienced.”

O’Rourke started his campaign on Monday with a visit to Fort Stockton, a small city in West Texas. He planned to continue his tour through South Texas, with events planned in Laredo Tuesday evening and Edinburg and McAllen on Wednesday. He said he wanted to visit South Texas early in the campaign to prove to voters there that he would listen and work with them.

“Every part of Texas is important, and we’re not writing anybody off and we’re not taking anybody for granted,” O’Rourke said. “We’re showing up to listen and learn from and decide to work with the people that we want to serve. 

“The great sin committed by Republicans historically has been to disenfranchise voters, including those in the Rio Grande Valley — then what was committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted in the past. We should never assume or predict how anyone’s going to vote based on their ethnicity or their race, or how others who look like them and speak like them have voted in the past. We’ve got to show up and listen and work with them.”

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks with members of Mariachi Campanas de America at the Communication Workers of America Local 6143 field office on Tuesday morning. O'Rourke officially announced his candidacy on Monday in his hometown of El Paso, TX.
Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks with members of Mariachi Campanas de America, who performed at his rally on Tuesday. “We are with you all the way,” one member said. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Though he found roaring support in San Antonio on Tuesday, O’Rourke’s standing in the gubernatorial race is less rosy. He announced his candidacy while trailing Gov. Greg Abbott in the most recent poll from the University of Texas at Austin and The Texas Tribune. Of registered voters polled in October, 46% said they would vote for Abbott, while only 37% said they’d vote for O’Rourke. 

O’Rourke hopes to persuade voters by pointing to crises that Texans faced in the past two years under Abbott’s watch. After a February winter storm knocked out power for millions of people across Texas, lawmakers, including Abbott, have not taken steps to address the energy grid for future weather emergencies, O’Rourke said, something that he wants to do if elected.

“Here we are in the energy capital of North America, and we can’t even guarantee that the lights will work or the heat will run or that our pipes might freeze,” he said.

O’Rourke’s campaign event drew several local elected officials, including Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who both threw whole-hearted support behind him. 

“We’ve been pulling together to get through [the coronavirus pandemic] and here we are today to support somebody who we know is going to be working with us instead of against us,” Nirenberg said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, right, speaks with gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks at the Communication Workers of America Local 6143 field office on Tuesday morning. O'Rourke officially announced his candidacy on Monday in his hometown of El Paso, TX.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, right, speaks with gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke at the Communications Workers of America Local 6143 on Tuesday morning. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Nirenberg’s remarks at his rally prompted O’Rourke to remind the crowd of Abbott’s executive order barring local governments and school districts from issuing mask mandates.

“When those teachers said, ‘Can you make sure that we’re wearing masks in the classroom so that we protect the lives of those kids that we have already given so much of our lives to? … ’ the governor said no,” O’Rourke said. “Let’s remember what’s at stake in this race.”

Though O’Rourke said Abbott’s response to recent crises was why he wanted to run, he said he hopes to make the message of his campaign one of unity.

“The only way we’re gonna do big things — create the best jobs in America here in Texas, have world-class public schools, make progress on things like expanding Medicaid — is bridging these divides that we’ve got right now, these divides that have been exacerbated by a governor who pits us against each other and get past that and bring people together,” he said. “Not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Texans. It’s the only way that we’re going to be able to move forward.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.