Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Andrew Gillum of Florida, both rising stars in the Democratic Party from purple and red states, met with former President Barack Obama in his Washington offices in recent days, stoking speculation that the two will launch 2020 presidential bids.
The three-term El Paso congressman — who nearly unseated GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last month — met with Obama on Nov. 16, the Washington Post reported, while the Florida mayor who narrowly lost his state’s gubernatorial race met with the former president on Tuesday, according to multiple news outlets.
O’Rourke, 46, was by far the best-funded and most competitive Democrat to run statewide in Texas in years, and he would have been the first elected statewide in nearly a quarter of a century. His campaign, which attracted huge national attention and raised more money than any other senate bid in US history, sparked widespread hope among Democrats that he’ll channel his popularity into a presidential ticket.
Obama publicly praised O’Rourke last month, telling his former top adviser David Axelrod that the Texas politician reminded him of himself and inspired voters because he’s authentic in his convictions.
“What I liked most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested,” Obama said during a podcast discussion with Axelrod. “It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly it’s not.”
O’Rourke, who said last week that he’s considering a 2020 bid despite repeatedly saying otherwise on the campaign trail, reportedly declined Obama’s offers to record robo-calls and stump with O’Rourke and decided against using a video Obama recorded endorsing him during the senate campaign.
The congressman has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of endorsements from politicians outside of his home state and rarely utilized surrogates on the campaign trail, but he did receive a series of high-profile endorsements from celebrities, including Beyonce, LeBron James, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Gillum, 39, also attracted national attention when he stunned the state by beating out an array of wealthy primary opponents and waged an aggressive and deeply progressive campaign for governor against the Trump-endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis.
It’s unclear what Gillum and the former president discussed in DC this week, and Gillum has declined to elaborate on his thoughts about a presidential run.
“I plan on being married to my wife. That is all I am planning,” Gillum said in response to questions about 2020 during an event at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington this week. “What I am committed to doing between now and 2020 is doing everything I can to make the state of Florida available and winnable for the democratic nominee for president.”
Obama has also reportedly met with other potential 2020 candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu.