Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman and presidential candidate now running to be the next governor of Texas, has declined to say whether he would invite President Joe Biden to campaign alongside him ahead of the 2022 election.
Mr O’Rourke was asked twice on Sunday during an interview with CNN whether he would accept an offer from the president to appear together at a rally or other event.
“This campaign in Texas is not going to be about Joe Biden, it’s not going to be about Donald Trump. It’s not going to be about anyone outside our state,” said the former congressman, before pivoting to criticism of Governor Greg Abbott for management of the state power grid during the brutal winter storms earlier this year.
“People in this state want change, and they’re focused on what’s happening here in Texas, not on what’s going on in the rest of the country,” he continued.
CNN anchor Dana Bash then asked pointedly if his answer meant that Mr O’Rourke “would prefer that he [Mr Biden] not come” and campaign with him in Texas.
“It means that I’m focused on Texas, and on my fellow Texans. Those are the people most important to me,” he said, adding that there was “no politician” from outside the state who could meaningfully affect the race in one way or another.
The remark was the second in less than a week from Mr O’Rourke that could be taken as a public effort to distance his campaign from the president and his administration’s policies.
While launching his campaign last week, Mr O’Rourke gave interviews including to a local CBS affiliate in which he discussed the issue of immigration and the growing number of apprehensions at the US-Mexico border of undocumented immigrants.
Immigration is a hot-button issue in Texas, which borders Mexico, and particularly among the state’s Republicans. A poll of Texas voters taken in October 2020 found that 16 per cent of voters ranked it as the most important issue.
Mr O’Rourke, who endorsed Mr Biden after dropping out of the 2020 presidential race, took a swipe at the president and called for more “order” and security measures at the southern border.
“It’s clear that President Biden could be doing a better job at the border. It is not enough of a priority for his administration,” said Mr O’Rourke.
He added that the president should work to restore “predictability, order and the rule of law” to the border region.
The remarks from Mr O’Rourke contrast with the dynamic in the recent Virginia governor’s race, which concluded earlier this month in a GOP victory.
Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe failed to make the presence of former president Donald Trump, and his support for his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin, a major factor in the Virginia race. Mr Youngkin claimed victory, surprising some Democratic operatives.
However Mr O’Rourke did not appear to be shifting to the right on every issue. Asked by Ms Bash on Sunday if he stood by a call to ban AR-15s that he made during the 2020 Democratic primary, he replied that he did.
“Yes, I still hold this view,” said Mr O’Rourke. He added that Texans wanted to “protect the Second Amendment” while having some reasonable restrictions on firearms.
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