Beto O’Rourke Imports a Texas Campaign Strategy to His First Day in Iowa

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KEOKUK, Iowa — For a moment, he seemed almost tentative, ducking into a coffeehouse between a tattoo parlor and an American Legion hall — speaking mostly of Texas because it was not clear where else to start.

“I want to hear from you about what it’s like in Iowa,” Beto O’Rourke said, standing on a chair minutes into his first event as a presidential candidate, on his first-ever visit to the state. “Let me share with you what I learned in Texas.”

It was a little after 8 a.m. on Thursday. By 8:30, he had removed his sweater to answer a question on federal marijuana legalization. (He’s for it.) By 8:39, he had perspired enough that his temples glowed a bit. By 8:45, he was recommending music to the locals.

“Blaze Foley!” he told one woman who approached for a photograph, name-checking the late country singer from Austin.

And on the first day of his quest for a mega-promotion, as he ferried his team in a rented minivan with Illinois plates, Mr. O’Rourke made plain his intention to transpose his Texas blueprint onto the national stage.

He peppered his remarks with Spanish before almost exclusively Caucasian audiences — swearing sporadically in both languages. He described life in El Paso, where his wife is raising their three kids — “sometimes with my help,” Mr. O’Rourke joked. He told the tale of a West Texas pecan grower when asked about trade policy.

“Our states have something in common, Texas and Iowa,” Mr. O’Rourke concluded a few hours into his trip, comparing the two states’ progress on sustainable energy.

There is likely no better place for this approach than Iowa, whose residents prize face-to-face interaction with candidates and cheer those who visit all 99 counties. (Mr. O’Rourke touched down in all 254 of Texas’ counties during his Senate run.)

Yet Thursday’s travels also highlighted Mr. O’Rourke’s already considerable following outside his home state, with phone-waving crowds waiting to greet him even for gatherings that had not been advertised widely.

“Folks down with ‘The View’?” Mr. O’Rourke asked the room, coming around without much prodding. “I don’t know that I’m in the business of turning anyone away.”

A few minutes later, Mr. O’Rourke was led into Classroom 310 to make an introduction. “We’ll be back,” he promised the students.

Exactly one of them clapped. Mr. O’Rourke smiled.

“Thanks for clapping,” he said softly.

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