Update: Thursday, March 14, 5:45 a.m.: Former El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke is running for president.
"I'm running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America," O'Rourke said in a video distributed to media outlets ahead of its official release Thursday morning, ending months of speculation. "This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us."
Our original story, published at 4 a.m., before O'Rourke made things officially official, follows:
Get ready for another round of text messages from Team Beto O'Rourke.
According to social media reports from volunteers for the former El Paso U.S. representative's senatorial campaign, O'Rourke and his team sent out an email Wednesday afternoon, informing the volunteers that O'Rourke needed help pushing out some text messages Thursday morning.
If those messages are anything but an announcement that O'Rourke, fresh off three terms in the House and a 1.5 point loss to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, O'Rourke will have pulled the greatest hoax since the president told everybody Mexico was going to pay for the wall.
“Man, I’m just born to be in it.” Beto O’Rourke seemed to come from nowhere to the brink of a presidential candidacy—but he’s been on this journey for his whole life. O’Rourke spoke with Joe Hagan. Photographs by Annie Leibovitz. https://t.co/WhmQGZnbUg pic.twitter.com/a7DCoaZdtd— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) March 13, 2019
Let's look at evidence:
Since losing to Cruz, O'Rourke has repeatedly refused to say whether he intended to seek office during the 2020 cycle, while doing everything he could to make sure his national profile never waned too much. There were blog posts about an early morning run through Washington and a solo road trip through the Midwest. O'Rourke gave Oprah a teasing interview, and staffers began building shadow operation in early primary states. Even The New York Times got in on the act, commissioning a sepia-toned piece about O'Rourke's early adult wandering in New York.
O'Rourke did his best to remain coy, but those close to him were more than willing to share details about his thinking on background. He wasn't planning on running for Senate against John Cornyn, outlets reported at the end of February, but was leaning toward running for president.
On Saturday, O'Rourke all but sealed the deal, pushing out ads asking for supporters' email addresses and cellphone numbers (hence the call for help with text messages) if they wanted to be the first to know his future plans.
He's also on the cover of the new Vanity Fair, because what person who isn't running for something doesn't have a family photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz in the midst of getting the long-form profile treatment from a national magazine.
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this was actually just an elaborate annie leibovitz photo shoot for beto's dog pic.twitter.com/RtVDuIUptS— Micah Grimes (@MicahGrimes) March 13, 2019
If O'Rourke didn't get in the race this week, things would've gotten really ridiculous. Thursday, he heads to Iowa for the first time, a little less than 10 months prior to the state's first in the nation caucuses.
Assuming he does get in the race, O'Rourke will join a Democratic field that already sports a dozen candidates. Given that his poll numbers were the highest they've been so far in December, the question about whether he took too long to make his decision is going to linger.
"He would've been much better off if [he got in], once you had Elizabeth Warren jump in — once you had one or two people effectively rolling out as well," Rice University political science professor Mark Jones says. "Now, all it does is raise questions about what's going on in his mind. Is he flaky? Is he doubting? ... Do you want to go with someone who might flake out and disappear off into Alaska [if you're a potential campaign staffer]?"