Beto O’Rourke skips Iowa to stay in Texas after mass shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is canceling a series of campaign stops in Iowa and will remain in El Paso, Texas, through the weekend as his hometown continues to cope with a mass shooting that killed 22 people.

O’Rourke’s campaign said Wednesday that he won’t attend the Iowa State Fair as planned on Friday or visit an Indian powwow or a multi-candidate fundraising event on Saturday — avoiding the state that kicks off presidential primary voting at a time when nearly every other Democrat seeking the White House will be there.

After attending a morning remembrance at an El Paso high school, O’Rourke didn’t say when he plans to resume his campaign, telling reporters that he’s “not even thinking about politics,” at least for now.

O’Rourke became a national political star by nearly upsetting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year and some Democrats in Texas and beyond have for months called on him to scrap a presidential bid that’s been plagued by low polling and instead use 2020 to challenge his state’s senior senator, Republican John Cornyn.

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Canceling presidential campaign events immediately began fueling speculation in some political quarters that he could be mulling switching races — but O’Rourke campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon dismissed that.

“It is unconscionable that political reporters remain more focused on the horse race rather than a community in crisis. Beto is staying in El Paso to support his hometown that was the target of a terrorist attack, inspired by the words of Donald Trump,” O’Malley Dillion said in a statement Wednesday. “Now more than ever, this country needs the honest leadership Beto continues to demonstrate — and that is why he running for president.”

O’Rourke was campaigning in Nevada on Saturday and had plans to visit California when news began to break about a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart crowded with back-to-school shoppers. He flew home a short time later and has remained there.

El Paso is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and investigators say the accused shooter, a 21-year-old white man, drove 600-plus miles from a Dallas suburb before the attack, while posting an anti-immigrant screed online.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday was visiting Dayton, Ohio, where a second shooting occurred Saturday, this one killing nine more people, and El Paso. O’Rourke has joined other Texas Democrats in urging the president not to come.

“My critics are political people,” Trump said in Ohio on Wednesday, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings and suggesting the man was supportive of Democrats.

“Had nothing to do with President Trump,” he said. “So these are people that are looking for political gain.”

At the same time Trump is visiting, O’Rourke will address an #ElPasoStrong community event at a park. He’s also making an evening visit to a makeshift memorial outside the Walmart where the shooting occurred.

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In February, during a packed Trump rally in El Paso supporting a U.S.-Mexico border wall, O’Rourke drew thousands with his own counter speech across the street. Trump tweeted late Tuesday that he’d “trounced” O’Rourke during those dueling February events and noted O’Rourke’s presidential campaign’s low polling numbers while adding that the former congressman should respect victims and law enforcement and “be quiet.”

O’Rourke tweeted in response: “El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I.” He said on Wednesday that Trump was trying to intimidate the city into silence before tweeting: “El Paso will not stand down. Every single one of us is standing up to be counted at this defining moment of truth.”