“I’m proud of him. I’m proud of the race he ran. . . . Part of his charm is what hurt him in a race like this. He’s not testing and polling everything he says. He speaks from his heart. . . . He shot from the hip and wasn’t running the traditional campaign with the canned lines,” Ortega said. He said that while O’Rourke focused on immigration and gun control, voters in key states might have wanted to hear about other issues.
“I’m glad that he ran, being from El Paso, because he brought a needed voice to border issues and gun control issues.”
The news of O’Rourke’s decision slowly arrived at a rally he had planned Friday on the riverfront in Des Moines. Tickets were still being distributed at an entrance, and some supporters expressed disbelief at the news, asking to be shown some proof.
Volunteers, some of whom had awoken early to decorate a park and line the road with signs, hugged each other, wept and sometimes screamed expletives.
“I saw him in Sioux Center, the reddest place in Iowa,” said Tammy Growth, a 48-year-old pastor. “His willingness to listen to everyone is what attracted me to listen to him.”
Ryan Holliday, 40, who had traveled from Galveston, Tex., was hurt because, he said, O’Rourke didn’t plan his campaign for years like some candidates who outlasted him.’
“It’s so disappointing that he did this before Super Tuesday,” Holliday said. “We have all these new voters coming out, and we needed him to come to Texas.”
Rosia Dumey, 35, said that O’Rourke was unfairly dismissed by Democrats who made fun of his Spanish speaking, blaming the party’s focus on winning back white voters in the Midwest.
“They just lost Texas,” said Dumey, who had driven from the Fort Worth area. “Do you think we’re going to do this for other candidates? No. We knew what we had in Beto.”
When O’Rourke arrived, he began by thanking his supporters
“We’ll miss you!” a supporter cried out.
“Beto! Beto! Beto!” a chant began.
O’Rourke stood in the center of the swarm of people and spoke on a sound system that wasn’t always loud enough. He had made the decision so recently and so reluctantly, he said, that his wife could not be by his side and was instead in El Paso with their children.
He spoke of his campaign’s advocacy on issues like climate change, guns, structural racism and immigration and pushing back against Trump.
“I will do everything that I can to support the eventual nominee. … I will still be part of all of the causes that brought us together,” he said. “I will still be part of the fight, and so will you.”
David Weigel contributed to this report.
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