O’Rourke holds Oakland rally, appeals to young crowd


Photo by Jake Berlin

Beto O’Rourke speaks in front a full crowd at Schenley Park just a week after Amy Klobuchar’s rally in Oakland. O’Rourke emphasized his proposals for gun legislation and college tuition.

Written By Jake Berlin, Staff Writer

Last Wednesday, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) became the second presidential candidate in a week to visit the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Oakland.

“[When I think of Pittsburgh], I think of the neighborhoods that have so much character,” O’Rourke said. “I think about a community that has distinguished itself by welcoming refugees and immigrants. People from all over the planet have found a home here in Pittsburgh.”

A mere seven days after Senator Amy Klobuchar made the college town a focal point of her “Blue Wall Tour,” O’Rourke swung through Schenley Park to drum up younger support for his candidacy.

Like Klobuchar’s visit, the weather was a perfectly clear 70 degrees, and turnout was higher than organizers expected. But unlike the senator’s rally, O’Rourke courted a crowd sporting t-shirts and hats bearing his name.

As he took to the platform under a circus-like tent, O’Rourke made himself the ringleader of hundreds of fans who cheered after nearly every sentence.

The former Texas Congressman from El Paso has seen a surge in his campaign since the tragic shooting in his hometown last month. His proposals for gun buybacks received roaring applause in Pittsburgh as he spoke passionately about the Tree of Life Synagogue victims. He also discussed proposals for a prominent concern among the crowd: tuition and student loan debt.

“Those who are entering college will have their first two years paid for, and four years will be debt-free,” he said. “Not just for tuition, but for room and board and books. We’ll make sure that cost is not an object.”

But Beto O’Rourke’s college support existed before this campaign. Last year, he mounted a nationally-recognized Senate run against incumbent Ted Cruz. O’Rourke lost the race but won the enthusiasm of many Democrats, not only in the red state of Texas but across the country.

As one of the youngest candidates in the 2020 presidential race, he has become meme material for the internet as younger generations affectionately reference his days of skateboarding and guitar playing.

“Being in an election and getting this much coverage sets him up for fantastic chances and opportunities to win,” Vikaas Arunkumar, a junior Political Science major at Pitt, said.

He works on a campus show called “The Bully Pulpit,” which covered the O’Rourke rally but not Klobuchar’s. Arunkumar said if he had to vote in the primary today, “it would probably be for Elizabeth Warren.”

“Historically, with the Republican Senate, she’s still been able to pass legislation,” he said. “As sad as it sounds, most people vote with their hearts. If someone’s been in Congress, it gives you a sense that they know what to do.”

Arunkumar also acknowledged that “most people vote with their age,” and attributed the large college turnout to Beto’s younger style and demeanor.

Jon Delano, Money & Politics Editor for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, referenced the previous presidential election when discussing O’Rourke’s turnout with The Globe.

“Donald Trump carried every single county in Western Pennsylvania—all the Republican counties—except for Allegheny,” Delano said. “Allegheny County was an island of Democrats voting… And there’s no indication that has changed. So for the Democrats, the strategy has to be to drive up the vote in Allegheny County. Because Donald Trump is going to carry all the other counties, as I see it as a political analyst.”

Delano spoke of the reality Democrats face as they must boost enthusiasm from liberals who didn’t bother voting for Hillary Clinton.

“For example, they need to win by 150,000 instead of 100,000… if they’re going to carry Pennsylvania,” he said. “I don’t think people cared for the Democratic nominee. She didn’t campaign outside of Pittsburgh. When Barack Obama ran, he went to the outlying counties.”

For right now, O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders—who has already visited Pittsburgh twice this year during his campaign—will focus on the city where there are the most votes and most fundraising dollars in Western Pennsylvania. More specifically, in terms of polling and engagement, that means campuses like the University of Pittsburgh.

“College students are the lifeblood of a political campaign,” Delano said. “You have the time, youth and energy to campaign, knock on doors, call people and use social media far better than your elders who have no clue. In my view, college campuses are where a smart candidate goes to recruit volunteers. The candidate who can attract the most students to a campaign is usually the candidate who can win.”

To college student cheers, O’Rourke ended his speech with a familiar indication that he may be back to visit: “Thank you all for having us, we’ll see you soon.”

His aide tossed him the keys to a minivan as he took the wheel and drove off to the next campaign stop.