Beto O’Rourke drew an enthusiastic crowd Saturday afternoon in Frisco, a once solidly conservative city he says he can turn blue.
Campaign staff said about 2,500 attendees gathered in the afternoon heat to hear the Democratic nominee for governor speak at a town hall event that’s part his 49-day Drive for Texas tour, where he plans to visit more than 75 towns.
Former President Donald Trump won Republican-leaning Collin County with 51% of the vote in 2020, and O’Rourke lost Collin County by around 6 percentage points in his 2018 Senate bid against Republican Ted Cruz. But he said Saturday that Democrats can change that.
“I know that we can win this county,” O’Rourke told reporters after the event. “The thousands of people who turned out today, the thousands more who are out there knocking on doors, and the tens of thousands more who will turn out to vote for the first time.”
O’Rourke and other Texas Democrats are counting on converting dissatisfied moderates and Republicans to their camp to capture statewide office for the first time in more than 20 years.
As he took to the stage in a tent packed elbow to elbow with people, O’Rourke said Democrats, independents and Republicans have found a home in his campaign.
O’Rourke said his strategy for winning in the conservative suburban and rural areas of Texas comes down to showing up. He told the crowd they won’t see Gov. Greg Abbott appearing in Frisco to answer their questions.
“He’s sleeping on this part of Texas right now,” O’Rourke told reporters. “He thinks he’s got it in the bag. We’re fighting for this part of Texas, and we’re going to deliver for this part of Texas.”
Abbott says he will debate O’Rourke once this fall, but O’Rourke wants the incumbent to agree to three televised debates.
O’Rourke trails Abbott by about 5 to 7 points in recent polls, but the governor’s race is much closer than in previous years.
The Drive for Texas tour does not include a stop in Dallas, but the former congressman has visited several North Texas towns in recent days. He stopped in Cleburne earlier this week, and scored a viral moment in Mineral Wells with a profane comeback to a heckler laughing during remarks about the Uvalde school shooting.
Saturday’s event drew a small but vocal group of protesters, some holding signs supporting Abbott. The “truth response unit,” an ambulance featuring O’Rourke’s face, was parked at the site.
The ambulance is one of Abbott’s campaign tactics, and was unveiled at the Texas Republican Convention earlier this summer.
Emily Moorehead, 32, stood in line to snap a photo with O’Rourke after he spoke.
The McKinney resident voted for him in 2018 but said this was her first time attending a campaign event.
“I’m a woman, I’m a therapist who cares about mental health, who cares about children and their safety,” she said. “Across the board, he matches all those values, and rarely do you find a candidate that does that.”
Brittany Charles, 28, a Frisco resident and teacher, also voted for O’Rourke during his 2018 run for Senate. She said she supports O’Rourke because his morals align with hers.
“He answered every question. He didn’t dodge it like Abbott, who just goes in circles,” she said.
Campaign volunteers swarmed the crowd with clipboards in hand, reminding people to update their voter registration or asking them to sign up for a door-knocking shift.
O’Rourke pitched the crowd on becoming campaign volunteers, saying he can prevail in the Nov. 8 midterm if enough people turn out to vote.
“The No. 1 reason people gave us for not voting in this last election is that no one knocked on their door, and literally asked them to do that,” he said. “You could be that person that they’re waiting for.”