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O’Rourke: Being white male doesn’t put me at disadvantage

March 17, 2019
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Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks to local residents during a stop at the Central Park Coffee Company, Friday, March 15, 2019, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. O'Rourke announced Thursday that he'll seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Saturday that being a white man in a 2020 Democratic field that’s so deeply diverse won’t be a hindrance because his gender and race have given him inherent advantages for years.

While he’d spoken before about his gender and race, O’Rourke had largely dodged campaign-trail questions about whether his party would go for a white man in a year when a historic number of women and minorities are running to deny President Donald Trump a second term.

“I would never begin by saying that it’s a disadvantage at all,” O’Rourke told reporters in a parking lot in Waterloo, after giving a speech at the campaign kickoff for state Senate candidate Eric Giddens. “As a white man who has had privileges that others could not depend on or take for granted, I’ve clearly had advantages over the course of my life.”

The former Texas congressman was making a series of stops in Iowa, the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process. Also campaigning Saturday were Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Vice President Joe Biden.

O’Rourke called recognizing and understand that and “doing everything I can to ensure that there is opportunity, and the possibility for advancement and advantage for everyone,” a big part of the campaign he’s running.

O’Rourke said he believes the Democrats seeking the White House in 2020 encompass “the best field that we’ve ever seen in the nominating process,” praising its “diversity of background and experience” and expertise.

He had already said he’d stop making a joke he’d frequently repeated about how his wife, Amy, raising the couple’s three young children “sometimes with my help.” O’Rourke said that he’d discussed scrapping the joke with Amy and, while she said she understood he was trying to not that she was “taking on the lion’s share” of parenting responsibilities, “it came off sounding a little flip.”

Other highlights of Saturday’s campaigning:

AMY KLOBUCHAR

Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar criticized Trump for his response to the deadly attacks in two New Zealand mosques, telling voters in Iowa “it’s our job to stand up against” white supremacism.

Trump played down the threat posed by white nationalism on Friday after the mosque massacre that left at least 50 people dead. The man accused of the shootings has described himself as a white nationalist who hates immigrants.

Klobuchar spoke about the shooting during a campaign stop in Waterloo, Iowa. The Minnesota senator referenced Trump’s comments after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 when he said “both sides” were to blame for violence.

“That other side was white supremacism,” she said.

On the policy front, Klobuchar said in Dubuque that as president she would put forward a major infrastructure program that would help address flooding that is hitting parts of the Midwest. Waterloo and Dubuque, both riverfront communities, were bracing for flooding from this year’s heavy snowfall.

“We have not been investing like we should” in infrastructure, she said. One option to fund a plan, she said, would be raising the corporate tax rate, which was cut in Trump’s 2017 tax bill.

JAY INSLEE

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called on Republicans to stop following Trump on the issue of climate change.

He said until the GOP joins “the scientific world and the rest of humanity in defeating climate change,” only one thing can be done: “Republicans must be defeated, and we should do that every chance we get. I’m totally committed to that.”

Voters have “exactly one chance left to defeat climate change,” Inslee said.

“And that’s during the next administration,” he said.

Campaigning in New Hampshire, Inslee tied his climate change push to the current debate over whether to end the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

“Anything that gets in the way of defeating climate change needs to go,” he said.

Inslee also criticized Trump for his remarks after the New Zealand shootings, saying the president “uses exactly the same language of this monster who shot Muslims and talked about the invaders.” He said the president “continually looks for dog whistles to spread hate rather than for looking for ways to search for the better angels of our nature.”

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand championed public service opportunities during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, saying the work could help treat some of the woes facing the country today.

The Democratic presidential hopeful said public service “changes your life.”

“That’s why I want national service,” she said. “That’s why I want to make it the cornerstone of my presidency.”

The New York senator held a civic service round table in Manchester as she finishes a two-day swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state.

“I would like to tell anyone in America, if you’re willing to do two years of public service, you can get your college degree paid for,” she said. “So if you’re willing to do a year and only a year, you can get two years paid for.”

CORY BOOKER

The New Jersey senator criticized Trump’s “bigoted, sexist rhetoric” as “dangerous,” but declined to fault him in the New Zealand mosque massacre.

“The president’s rhetoric — his bigoted rhetoric, his sexist rhetoric ... and here we have a president that can’t even condemn Nazis — is that dangerous? Yeah, it’s dangerous,” he told reporters in Ottumwa, Iowa,

“I’m not connecting it to any incidents,” he continued, “but we know that there are white supremacist groups and right-wing groups that use his rhetoric as license for what they do. They talk about him being on their side. And that’s unacceptable.”

Booker said if elected president, he would instruct the Justice Department to investigate hate groups and “unequivocally denounce” hatred.

BETO O’ROURKE

Speaking to about 100 people at the public library in Independence, Iowa, O’Rourke said that as president he’d make sure there is “no military intervention in Venezuela or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.” He pointed to a CIA-led coup in Guatemala in the 1950s as proof that U.S. military action in the hemisphere can have decades of unintended, negative consequences.

A fluent Spanish speaker from El Paso, across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, O’Rourke noted earlier in the day that he’s the only 2020 candidate from the border “at a time that that dominates so much of our national conversation and legislative efforts and the things that the president talks about.”

“There’s one candidate whose there to talk about the profoundly positive impact that immigrants have had on our safety and our security, as well as our success and our strength,” he said.

Following a house party in Dubuque, O’Rourke was asked if he would commit to choosing a female running mate should he win the nomination. “That would be my preference,” he said and later added: “It would be very difficult not to select a woman with so many extraordinary women who are running right now. But first I would have to win.”

BILL De BLASIO

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio championed his progressive values during a trip to New Hampshire as he flirts with running for president.

The Democrat is in New Hampshire this weekend for a two-day visit. He also met with New Hampshire Democratic chairman Ray Buckley as several presidential contenders spent the last two days campaigning across the state.

“We have to be a country that rewards working people,” de Blasio said during a speech. The mayor didn’t receive a warm welcome from everyone, however.

A vehicle sporting a large sign saying “Mayor Bill de Blasio is no friend of labor” could be seen outside the bar where the Democrat gave his speech Saturday night. He also said a decision on whether to run for president would come “sooner rather than later.”

“When we know we’re there, we’ll tell ya,” de Blasio said.

JOE BIDEN

Former Vice President Joe Biden might have let on that he’s leaning toward running for the White House again.

Or it may just have been a slip of the tongue.

In a keynote speech at a Saturday dinner for the Delaware Democratic Party, Biden boasted that he has “the most progressive record of anybody running.”

But Biden hasn’t announced whether he is running again for president. He quickly corrected himself, saying “anybody who would run — I didn’t mean it. Anybody who would run.”

Cheers nearly drowned out his correction. Although Biden has been known to go off script, his remark is likely to be viewed as a Washington-style gaffe — a case of accidentally telling the truth.

Biden pushed Democratic policies and accused President Donald Trump of dividing the country.

Biden, 76, who served as President Barack Obama’s closest adviser, is the only major contender still on the sidelines and has suggested he could remain there for several more weeks.

BERNIE SANDERS

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of at least 1,000 people in a sunny park in a suburb of Las Vegas, the Vermont senator’s first appearance this year in Nevada, where he gave Hillary Clinton a surprisingly strong challenge in the 2016 caucuses before she edged out a win.

Sanders, who received stitches Friday after cutting his head on the edge of a glass shower door, was sporting a large bandage on his head and a black eye — along with a Vegas Golden Knights hockey team hat.

“A little black eye is not going to stop me,” Sanders said.

Sanders barely made note of the crowded Democratic field, saying only that his policies that were once seen as too radical, including a $15-an-hour minimum wage, have now become mainstream. He pitched his campaign as a crusade for justice in all forms — social, economic, racial and environmental — that will defeat President Donald Trump with the help of an “unprecedented grassroots effort.”

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Woodall reported from Exeter, New Hampshire. Associated Press writers Sara Burnett and Will Weissert in Waterloo, Iowa; Alexandra Jaffe in Ottumwa, Iowa; Michelle Price in Las Vegas; and Brian Slodysko in Dover, Delaware, contributed to this report.