NORFOLK- Beto O'Rourke on Tuesday became the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to make an official campaign stop in Hampton Roads, speaking in front of a packed crowd inside Charlie's American Cafe on Granby Street.
The former Texas congressman and Democratic hopeful spent about an hour talking and answering questions from a crowd of at least 150 people on a range of state and federal issues such as gun control, healthcare and immigration. O'Rourke, 46, spoke on a stage inside Charlie's, a staple of Norfolk's breakfast scene which also serves as a live music venue.
"He's inspirational," said Kim Vasquez, who with her husband Sergio arrived early to snag a standing spot inside. A Norfolk fire marshal started turning people away after the restaurant began pushing its 150-person capacity.
"I love hearing him talk," Vasquez said. "He has a way of connecting."
O'Rourke spent the beginning of his speech encouraging the crowd to support local politicians like Missy Cotter Smasal, a state Senate candidate from Virginia Beach who jogged with O'Rourke early Tuesday morning along the Oceanfront.
Referencing the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, which happened 12 years ago Tuesday and left 32 people dead, O'Rourke called out how the commonwealth has not since passed universal background checks on purchasing firearms.
"We can assume that this is inherent to who we are. That we are violent, we are evil, we are bad," O'Rourke said of the massacre. "Or we can understand that this is a human-caused problem with a human solution to it. If Virginia is going to pass universal background checks, we need Missy in your Senate."
He continued about bringing a change in leadership in Virginia and the upcoming election: "This is going to be our defining moment of truth. This year, right now."
After speaking for about 20 minutes, O'Rourke took questions about affordable healthcare, solutions to climate change and lowering the national debt.
On climate change, O'Rourke spoke about re-instituting a plan to generate electricity from renewable energy sources.
"We need to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as humanly possible," he said. "If we do not, we will have failed you, and generations that will follow you."
Tuesday's stop in Norfolk was the first for O'Rourke in Virginia. He then was off to Hampton, Williamsburg and Henrico, followed by Fredricksburg, Dumfries and Alexandria on Wednesday.