Beto O'Rourke's team gears up for a 2020 presidential bid as announcement looms

Posted at 5:54 PM, Feb 28, 2019

Beto O'Rourke said this week he has made a decision about his political future -- and signs increasingly point to him running for president in 2020.

O'Rourke aides have spoken with Democratic operatives in recent weeks about a presidential campaign. This week those conversations have begun shifting to a more formal discussion of staff positions with the eventual campaign, a person familiar with the talks said, though no job offers have been made.

Another change happened nine days ago: O'Rourke took the "for Texas" out of his digital presence. Emails sent from his team that used to come from are now coming from And while previously had redirected to his website from last year's Senate campaign, it's now the opposite.

The shift was a small but telling sign as the former Texas congressman rules out another US Senate run and is on the verge of announcing his plans.

Anticipation in his hometown for a presidential run is building, but O'Rourke's friends and family say they are still waiting to hear from him about whether he will run and when he'll announce it.

"I think he should do it. I really do," his sister Charlotte O'Rourke said Thursday in an interview with CNN in her El Paso home. "I just think he has that way with people more than anybody does."

"Honestly, everybody's on board for him to do what he wants," she said.

She said O'Rourke had discussed the pros and cons of a presidential campaign in depth with his family several weeks ago, but that -- as of Thursday morning -- he had not yet told them what he planned to do.

O'Rourke aides have begun reactivating the massive email list he built during his failed Senate bid in the 2018 midterm elections. It had been dormant since December, until O'Rourke's team sent five emails over the last eight days -- a step that could help remove inactive addresses, re-engage recipients and prevent new messages from being sent to spam ahead of a major announcement.

The two most recent emails asked recipients to take a survey about the issues most important to them, how they might work for a campaign and how to reach them -- the sort of information campaigns regularly collect about individual supporters they hope to turn into donors and volunteers.

Sticking to the end-of-February timeline he'd laid out to Oprah Winfrey weeks earlier, O'Rourke said in a statement Wednesday that he and his wife, Amy O'Rourke, "have made a decision about how we can best serve our country. We are excited to share it with everyone soon."

"I want to make the announcement to everyone at the same time. I want to do it the right way," a smiling O'Rourke told CNN on Wednesday night before speaking at a Moms Demand Action event in El Paso.

Those close to him read his comments -- and the reality that if he didn't intend to become a candidate, he could have just said so -- as implying a presidential campaign is likely.

"It seemed almost like a telling statement, in a way. But I don't know," Charlotte O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke has called some of his closest political allies outside El Paso in recent days, one person who spoke with him this week said. That person declined to reveal the details of their conversation but touted O'Rourke as a strong presidential contender.

Anticipating a presidential announcement is coming soon, two groups that launched in recent months attempting to draft O'Rourke into the presidential race and lay groundwork for his campaign in the early-voting states are preparing to activate the lists of supporters they've built, as well.

One group prepared an email blast to send its 30,000 subscribers to O'Rourke's website upon its launch. The group's leaders also circled back with activists in early-voting states who had hosted events to organize volunteers for an O'Rourke campaign in recent days.

Another group launched a "Beto Alert," planning to notify its 7,000 email subscribers and 2,500 text message subscribers as soon as O'Rourke announces his plans and direct them to his donation webpage.

Near O'Rourke's house, a neighbor, Michael Reyes, printed his own stickers to cover the "for Senate" in his Beto yard sign with "for president."

"He has a lot of potential and you can see it. You can see it. Um, and the whole fact that he's just a nice guy, a regular guy, we kind of need somebody like that up there that has the view of the regular people," Reyes said.

For months, O'Rourke has said publicly and in conversations with friends that his biggest hesitation about a presidential run is the time away from his three children -- Ulysses, 12; Molly, 10; and Henry, 8 -- after spending nearly two years largely on the road during his Senate run.

O'Rourke attended high school at a boarding school in Virginia, and then college in New York City, in part due to a strained relationship with his own father, Pat O'Rourke, who was a local politician. The two rebuilt their relationship and became much closer when O'Rourke moved back to El Paso in his 20s, his sister said, before his father was killed when a car struck his bicycle in 2001. People close to O'Rourke said they think that history could shape his thinking.

"I think he feels almost like he's abandoning his kids, and what trauma is that going to leave on them," Charlotte O'Rourke said. She said O'Rourke's conversations with family have focused on the logistics of him and at times his wife being on the campaign trail.

O'Rourke "really put it all on the line for a while there and he invested so much into being away from his family, and I know how badly he wanted to be with them," said Tony Casas, a friend who O'Rourke hired at his former internet services firm Stanton Street and who designed O'Rourke's black-and-white Senate campaign logo.

Friends said O'Rourke was particularly concerned about how a run would impact his elder son.

Steve Ortega, an O'Rourke friend and fellow former city councilman, said he was at O'Rourke's house during this year's college football national championship game.

"Beto had stepped out of the room and I asked Ulysses, 'How's it having your dad back?' And he says, 'It's awesome, I love it,' " Ortega said. "He's at the age where spending time with your parents is still cool."

O'Rourke has said lately, though, that after spending time at home with his children in recent months, they are more supportive.

In an early February interview with Winfrey in New York City, he joked that Ulysses "is about ready for me to leave the house."

On Wednesday night, O'Rourke -- who had ridden a bicycle several blocks to the pro-gun-control group's event -- declined to offer any additional details about the timeline to reveal his decision about a 2020 presidential campaign or how he would do so.

"I'm going to make an announcement soon. I'm going to be making the same announcement to everyone at the same time," he told CNN. "That's all I can say at this time."