WASHINGTON – Four Democratic members of Congress quickly endorsed former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke's presidential bid within hours of his official announcement Thursday.
U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Kathleen Rice, both of New York; Stephanie Murphy of Florida; and Veronica Escobar of El Paso all announced their support for O'Rourke to be their party's nominee for president in 2020.
All four are part of the younger generation of Democratic House members. All joined the chamber either with O'Rourke in 2013 or afterwards.
"I have endorsed Beto O’Rourke in every election he’s run — including this exciting run for President of the United States — because he is an extraordinary public servant, driven by compassion and a desire to unify," Escobar, who succeeded O'Rourke in his El Paso-based district in January, said in a post on Facebook. "He is a son of the border, and during an era of unprecedented racist attacks on safe, secure communities like ours, I am grateful that he consistently stands up to the xenophobia and bigotry that has driven the ugliest of political debates. It is that kind of courage that we need today, now more than ever."
Maloney, Rice and Murphy all served alongside O'Rourke before he ended his six years in the House in January. Murphy, co-chair of the centrist Blue Dogs Coalition, visited Texas last year to campaign with O'Rourke in his failed bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. O'Rourke endorsed Maloney last year in his failed bid for the Democratic nomination for New York attorney general.
Rice, who appeared to be first out of the gate, announced her decision Thursday morning on Twitter.
"I’m proud to endorse my friend @BetoORourke for President!" Rice tweeted. "He’s honest, authentic and has the courage of his convictions and a bold vision for our future. Most importantly, he'll build a movement that will rise above the toxic division in our politics and unite this country."
Rice said "there was no question in my mind" that she would support O'Rourke if he entered the already-crowded presidential race.
"This is about knowing who Beto is as a person," she added. "I have never been able to support a presidential candidate with whom I have a close, personal relationship. ... It was a no-brainer for me to come out immediately and support him."
The other Texan in the presidential race, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, has drawn the endorsements of three U.S. House members, all Texans: his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, along with U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen.
Soon after O'Rourke released his official campaign announcement Thursday morning, Castro announced another 30 endorsements from prominent Democrats across Texas, including 17 members of the Texas House, two members of the Texas Senate and former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. The state House members on the list included state Rep. Mary González, whose district includes a small part of O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso.
While congressional support may help a presidential campaign on the periphery, it doesn't carry the weight it used to be in a Democratic primary. Last year, the Democratic National Committee largely neutered the power of superdelegates — a tier that includes Democratic members of Congress — in determining the party nominee.
Rice joked about that reality.
"I don't think it's going to a matter a hoot," she said of her endorsement.
But, she added, members know their districts well, and if O'Rourke's campaign lasts deep into the primary next year, he could have a crop of well-connected allies in foreign territory.
"We know exactly where we can increase turnout, to the extent that there are colleagues of mine who live in those areas," she said. "I do think it could be helpful to him if you were to go district by district. That could be a pretty powerful movement."
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.