By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic former Texas congressman whose unexpectedly close but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate generated buzz about a 2020 presidential bid, said on Tuesday he will decide by the end of the month whether to run.
In a taped interview with Oprah Winfrey in New York, O’Rourke, 46, appeared to be leaning toward a 2020 campaign for the White House but said he would make his decision after consulting his wife and three children.
“I have been thinking about running for president,” he said, prompting wild applause. “I’m so excited at the prospect of being able to play that role.”
The remarks, the closest O’Rourke has come to declaring his intentions for 2020, were made in a discussion open to the media at “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations from Times Square.” The interview will air on Winfrey’s cable television channel OWN on Feb. 16.
The appearance ended what has been a relatively quiet period for O’Rourke since he lost to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in November.
His narrow defeat in a solidly Republican state, coupled with record fundraising totals and a rockstar-like following, has prompted two separate “Draft Beto” efforts led by Democratic consultants who call him the face of a new generation.
“He’s running,” said Nate Lerner, the co-founder of DraftBeto.org, after hearing O’Rourke’s comments. “We’re celebrating over here.”
Lerner, whose volunteer group has been marshaling support for O’Rourke among state officials and activists, said the timing of the decision would not affect his prospects.
“A year from now, nobody is going to care or remember when Beto O’Rourke announced,” he said. “The momentum you have in February 2019 is going to matter a lot less than the momentum you have in February 2020. Beto O’Rourke is a momentum machine.”
While O’Rourke weighs a bid, other prominent Democrats such as Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have announced their intention to run and already are visiting the states where the first nominating contests take place next year.
Winfrey, who herself has been the subject of speculation as a possible 2020 Democratic candidate but has demurred thus far, has become a political force in her own right in recent years.
Last year, she campaigned for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who lost in another close race in November but is widely seen as a rising Democratic star.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Carlo Allegri; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Sonya Hepinstall)