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By Ben Kamisar
WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said that he’s been afforded “privileges” in his life because of his race and gender but insisted that his presidential bid can be used as a way to level the playing field for all Americans.
“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,” O’Rourke told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd during a campaign swing through Iowa on Saturday.
“I think recognizing that and understanding that others have not — doing everything I can to ensure that there is opportunity and the possibility for advancement and advantage for everyone — is a big part of this campaign and a big part of the people who comprise this campaign.”
O’Rourke, a Democrat from Texas, addressed the question in light of some criticism that he has benefited from a double standard in the early days of campaigning, given the large amount of attention his entry into the crowded field has received.
The former congressman went on to praise his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls as part of the “best field that we’ve ever seen in the nominating process,” calling the “diversity of background, and experience, expertise” a key asset for Democrats.
But he also pointed to his own experience as proof that he can stand out among a field that includes politicians with far more experience.
“I also happen to be the only candidate from the United States-Mexico 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 who’s there who can 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.
And he said his narrow loss in last year’s senate race in Texas offers evidence that he can broaden the presidential playing field for Democrats.
“I ran for statewide office in what was thought to be a red state, and that state is now in play by most people’s estimation,” he said. “So there are some things, perhaps, that, you know, will be different about this candidacy, from the candidacy of others.”
While O’Rourke is the only candidate who grew up along the southern border, other candidates have made immigration a central plank of their candidacies.
Julián Castro, who served as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, regularly evokes his grandmother’s story of emigrating from Mexico as an orphan as both a foundational part of his background and also to inform his views on immigration policy.
O’Rourke announced his presidential bid in earnest last Thursday, although he had been teasing the possibility of running for months.
He burst on the national scene after running a stronger than expected challenge to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, shattering fundraising records and quickly building a brand among Democrats.
And while he swore off the prospect of running for president just days before Election Day in 2018, he quickly made it clear he was open to running just weeks after.
Issues revolving around race, gender and double standards have been key topics facing Democratic candidates among the historically diverse field of candidates.
One debate has been over the question of government reparations to the families descended from slaves.
O’Rourke was asked about his stance on reparations during a house party in Iowa, where he spoke about the importance of addressing systemic racism but didn’t endorse a specific plan.
Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is also running for president, addressed the question during a Saturday interview with “Meet the Press” also from her campaign swing through Iowa.
“I believe we have to invest in those communities that has been so hurt by racism. It doesn’t have to be a direct pay for each person,” she said.
“But what we can do is, in those communities, acknowledge what happened. And that means better education. That means looking at for our whole economy: community college, one-year degrees, minimum wage, childcare, making sure that we have that shared dream of opportunity for all Americans.”