By Shrey Dua
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was greeted with a rock star welcome at UVA April 16. After being delayed by an hour, the Texas native and Woodberry Forest grad arrived at Nau Hall at 8pm to a mob of excited students.
The event, hosted by the University Democrats, was held in a large lecture hall that proved far too small to seat an estimated crowd of more than 500, resulting in a number anxiously waiting outside the auditorium. O’Rourke spoke to both groups.
The 46-year-old candidate from El Paso served three terms as a representative in Congress. In 2018, he sought a Senate seat instead, and almost unseated Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in a tightly contested race, in which O’Rourke received the most votes for a Democrat in Texas history.
In his talk, O’Rourke hit on universal healthcare, the decriminalization of marijuana, President Trump and his comments about U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, and LGBTQ rights. He also took questions from the audience.
One student took the opportunity to call out the candidate for what she considered to be a notably low number of charitable donations on his recently released tax return.
The crowd—and O’Rourke—seemed bewildered by the specific nature of the question, but he defended his tax return and his record, stressing his service in public office since 2005. “I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, my state, and now my country,” he said. “There are ways I do this that are measurable, others that are immeasurable. There are charities that we‘ve donated to that we recorded and itemized, and others that we have not.”
He added, “I’ll tell you, I’m doing everything I can, right now, spending this time with you, not with our kids, not back home in El Paso, because I want to sacrifice everything to ensure we meet this moment of truth with everything we got.”
Third-year UVA student Eli Ratzlaff felt the candidate exceeded expectations: “I thought he did a much better job at speaking to actual issues that I cared about than I expected. He spoke to talking points frequently, but was an incredibly enthusiastic and charismatic speaker, and the way he delivered two separate yet engaging stump speeches to two different audiences was impressive.”
Ratzlaff said he did think that the woman who put him on the spot for his charitable deductions made a very good point, and that Beto, “though he took it well, seemed rattled by the question.”
Earlier that day, O’Rourke made five other stops in Virginia, including Richmond and Hampton Roads. The next day he took in Northern Virginia before directing his attention to New Hampshire as he continues on the campaign trail leading up to the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.
In a crowded field, he’s currently polling at around 5.3 percent in Iowa, behind Democratic front runners Joe Biden, who has not officially joined the race, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and recent media favorite Mayor Pete Buttigieg from Indiana.