DES MOINES, IA — Beto O’Rourke’s campaign team had little advance notice of the biggest shock for their campaign: It was all coming to an end.
And for several members of the O’Rourke campaign, huddled over a table in a Des Moines sports bar, staring at cell phones and faces reflecting shock – the initial reaction mirrored the various stages of grief, including disbelief and shock.
Volunteers told Texas Signal that they felt like they’d been hit by a train, or punched in the gut – more so by the surprising nature of the announcement than by the news itself.
O’Rourke was in town originally to attend the Liberty and Justice Celebration, hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party – the largest event the party has ever held (initial estimates from the party expected 13,000 attendees).
For dedicated volunteers from around the country, including many from Texas, the news was a bombshell, too.
Camille Hedrick, a Texan and fundraiser for the O’Rourke campaign, was at the sports bar with staff when the news first broke.
“It’s more than a bummer, I’m in a state of shock,” Hedrick said. “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to think.”
Hedrick said she was first impressed by O’Rourke’s run against Ted Cruz.
“When he was running for Senate, I already thought the Senate wasn’t a big enough position for him and that he should run for president, even then.”
At what was supposed to be a joyful celebration just hours earlier, O’Rourke appeared at a park across the street from the event venue, speaking with his supporters for the first time after the news of his dropping out became public.
“I want you to know how much I love you and how grateful I am for you, and how proud I am to be in this with you,” O’Rourke told supporters and staff, many of whom were embracing and wiping tears from their eyes.
Others used video calls and live streaming apps on their phones to broadcast the speech to supporters who couldn’t attend.
“This is a campaign that has prided itself on seeing things clearly, and on speaking honestly, and acting decisively,” O’Rourke said. “[But] we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully.”
O’Rourke’s campaign cited financial struggles as the primary reason for his candidacy coming to an end.
And it was such a sudden decision, O’Rourke said, that his wife Amy was not able to join him in Iowa to share the news.
During the Liberty and Justice Dinner, where O’Rourke declined to speak after exiting the race, several candidates including Senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, as well as the chair of the DNC, Tom Perez, applauded O’Rourke’s efforts in the primary.
“Thank you [Beto] for all you’ve done,” Perez said.
Susan Lynn traveled to Iowa from Houston earlier this week to volunteer, and to support O’Rourke at the dinner. She said she first heard the news from a group of Warren supporters.
“I felt like they were lying to me,” Lynn said. “I [felt] like somebody punched me in the stomach. And then [I felt] anger, because we have worked really hard.”
On Medium, where he announced the end to his campaign, O’Rourke walked through some of the impact of his short-lived candidacy.
“…[A]t this moment of truth for our country, we laid bare the cost and consequence of Donald Trump: the rise in hate crimes, the terror attack in El Paso, the perversion of the Constitution, the diminished standing of the United States around the world,” he wrote. “But we also made clear the common responsibility to confront him, to hold him accountable and ensure that he does not serve another term in office. Committing ourselves to this task not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first before we are anything else.”
As for what’s next for O’Rourke, supporter Peggy Crowe figures the political future of her candidate is just beginning.
“Personally, I can see him heading up a gun reform thing,” Crowe said. “Doing March [For Our Lives], doing Moms [Demand Action] doing Everytown, doing Giffords, and really getting back to the grassroots things he did in Texas, and run with it. And while [the Democrats running in the primary] are messing with Trump, he’s going to be down here doing this grassroots stuff, because he ain’t going to let this shit go. He ain’t going nowhere.”
“I’m not really sad and that sounds really strange, but I feel like he’s just getting started,” Crowe said. “He needed to do what he did. He’s going to make a mark on the world.”
“Whatever he’s doing I’m there, all the way.”
photo: Jake Bullington/ Texas Signal