Carolina Welcomes Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke
Each time the door opened ever so slightly, the crowd intensified, as if they were waiting for Meghan Markle to show her royal baby to the world for the first time…just as they let out a high-pitched sigh every time the door closed and a tall Texan did not emerge from behind it.
Students at UNC-Chapel Hill crowded the Frank Porter Graham Student Union on Monday, April 15, to listen to presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
In his first campaign stop in North Carolina, O’Rourke spoke in Charlotte and Greensboro before heading to the “southern part of heaven,” as locals fondly call their town of Chapel Hill.
Finally, the door opened, and this time, there he was, in a Carolina blue button-down and a UNC baseball cap.
Students and community members of all ages clustered together, stepping on one another’s backpacks and even feet to get a closer glimpse at the fiery, frenzied man of the hour.
After losing a close Senate race in his home state of Texas to incumbent Ted Cruz, the world quickly seemed to grow fond of Congressman O’Rourke, his policy ideas, his grit, and his ability to nearly win a U.S. Senate seat in an overwhelmingly red state.
Hosted by the UNC Young Democrats, O’Rourke brought up policy points ranging from climate change action, gun control and background checks, and voting rights to universal health care, the student loan crisis, and immigration reform.
“We’ve gotta make sure that everyone can be counted, that every one of us can vote. And I understand in North Carolina, you understand something about gerrymandering in this state. You understand something about voter ID laws in this state,” O’Rourke proudly stated to cheers of appreciation from the attendees.
Those in the audience found that candidate O’Rourke knew a lot about our state; while on the topic of climate change, the candidate went into detail about the devastation Hurricanes Florence and Matthew brought on North Carolina. Still, it was more than just his understanding of local issues that seemed to move the audience to connect with him.
O’Rourke argued, “The challenges that we face are the greatest of our lifetimes. We are a country, in the year 2019, the wealthiest, the most powerful on the face of the planet, the most technologically and medically advanced, that allows people to die of diabetes or the flu or curable cancers, not for lack of funds, but for lack of will, and our ability to come together to face that challenge. No Republican wants that to happen. No Democrat wants that to happen.”
He used the term “come together” countless times in his speech on Monday. What moved the North Carolinians even more than the congressman from El Paso demonstrating Tar Heel state knowledge? His charge of unison.
Although O’Rourke undoubtedly wants to beat President Donald Trump in the next election, he did not point the finger to fixate blame on others. Instead, he offered some ways in which we can change this country, and why exactly we must.
Jordan Sellers, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, came out to the event to learn more about O’Rourke’s policy proposals in a crowded Democratic presidential field. “He’s pretty young himself, but he really attracted young voters after his Senate race through social media. Social media in itself attracts young people. He really encourages people to get out the vote.”
Many students like Sellers did not walk into the Great Hall with a firm commitment to vote for O’Rourke, but most appeared to leave impressed, excited, and hopeful for the future.
One student mentioned that she skipped an important class to come to this event; another remarked that she “took the whole day off” just so she could hear O’Rourke speak in person.
After taking questions from the audience, the room roared one last time to say goodbye, only to discover that O’Rourke was standing underneath a Carolina flag in the lobby next door, happily taking pictures with every person who wanted to say hello.
It was a cheerful afternoon in Chapel Hill that mirrored the sunny blue skies overhead. This race might be crowded, but Monday proved that the Carolina community is happy to hear from anyone who’s tossed their hat in the ring.