EL PASO, Texas/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who has been in his home city of El Paso, Texas, since an Aug. 3 gun massacre there left 22 dead, said on Thursday he will resume his campaign by visiting U.S. immigrant communities he said have been demonized by Republican President Donald Trump.
O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, said he would use his platform as a presidential candidate in the 2020 race to highlight the plight of immigrants and confront what he characterized as Trump’s racially charged and divisive rhetoric.
The Texan will travel on Friday to Mississippi to spend time in a state where roughly 680 food-processing workers were arrested in immigration raids last week. He will then head to Arkansas.
“To those places where Donald Trump has been terrorizing and terrifying and demeaning our fellow Americans, that’s where you will find me on this campaign,” O’Rourke said in a speech in El Paso.
O’Rourke, 46, has been struggling with persistently low opinion poll numbers in a large Democratic field. But he eschewed mounting calls for him to abandon his White House bid and run instead for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas next year.
“There have even been some who have said that I should stay in Texas and run for the Senate,” he said. “But that would not be good enough for El Paso and that would not be good enough for this country.”
Democrats need at least three pickups in the 100-member Senate next November to regain a majority. Party leaders know that without control of the upper chamber – even if they win the White House – achieving their legislative agenda would be difficult.
No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but O’Rourke came close last November when he challenged Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Senator John Cornyn, also a Republican, holds the seat up for grabs in November 2020.
Other Democratic presidential hopefuls with low poll numbers, such as Montana Governor Steve Bullock and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, are also facing pressure to drop out and focus on Senate runs they are seen as having far better chances of winning.
Hickenlooper is on the verge of quitting his presidential run, according to news media reports. Those reports said his announcement is expected on Thursday but that he is unlikely to immediately say whether he will seek a Senate seat.
O’Rourke in his speech said he had been unable to attend the recent Iowa State Fair this month, where more than 20 of his Democratic rivals campaigned, because of the El Paso massacre.
Expressing a slight disdain for the “corn dogs and Ferris wheels” that epitomize the Iowa event, O’Rourke said: “I also cannot go back to that.”
Speaking to reporters after his speech, however, O’Rourke said he would still campaign in traditional early voting states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
“But we’ll also go to Mississippi and Arkansas and Oklahoma, and places that aren’t very often visited by presidential candidates, to demonstrate to the people of those states and also to the people of Iowa who may be watching at home that when we say that everyone counts, we mean that everyone counts,” O’Rourke said.
Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez and Tim Reid; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis