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Beto O’Rourke brings presidential campaign to Northern Nevada

CARSON CITY – Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made two appearances on a campaign swing through Northern Nevada on Thursday, speaking in Reno in the morning and later addressing some 200 supporters in his first visit to the state’s capital.

The former Texas congressman spoke and answered audience questions for close to 40 minutes – posing for pictures with supporters for nearly as long. He moved through campaign messages on immigration, education, economic opportunity and equality, climate change, universal health care, gerrymandering, and money in politics, ending his initial remarks with a call to “get back to the business of America, the big beautiful business of America doing what no other country can for us, or for the rest of the world.”

The 47-year-old Texan served three terms in Congress before running for Senate in 2018 against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, earning praise for making the race competitive. He is on his second visit to Nevada this week since announcing his campaign last month and has scheduled stops in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday before heading to California Saturday afternoon for a four-day swing through the state.

In Carson City, O’Rourke took questions from the audience on health care costs, immigration, improving mental health services, collective bargaining rights for workers – a current issue in the state Legislature for state employees – and the controversial planned inclusion of a question on citizenship in the 2020 census. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to the citizenship census question this week.

Answering on immigration, O’Rourke took a cue from the questioner to call out President Trump’s “very hateful racist rhetoric” regarding immigrants and asylum seekers, then to praise contributions immigrants make when they establish themselves in the U.S.

“When he calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and when he talks about asylum seekers as though they are animals, or an infestation – you know, an infestation is a cockroach. It’s something that you kill when it comes into your home,” O’Rourke said. “When we talk about our fellow human beings like that, it doesn’t just offend our sensibilities, it changes the very nature of this country, our practices and our policies. It’s how you get kids in cages. It’s how you see a rise in hate crimes every one of the last three years in the United States of America.”

As for immigrants, “They left their hometown, their culture, their language, their comfort, their family, to start over as strangers in a strange land, to do better for themselves and their kids,” he said. “Whether it’s economic growth and job creation, whether it’s taxes paid in far more than benefits ever taken out, immigrants are a net benefit any way that you cut it. And if it’s a problem it’s the best possible problem the United States of America could have right now.”

Heather Renner, an 18-year-old Reno resident who will start at UNLV in the fall, liked O’Rourke’s answer to her question about improving mental health, although she was looking for more specifics.

“I think that it’s good that it’s on his radar,” she said. “For a lot of politicians, it isn’t.”

O’Rourke spoke to reporters briefly before leaving. He was asked about former Vice President Joe Biden’s formal entry into the presidential race Thursday, and said he was “grateful” for Biden’s service to the country to date and “for his willingness to get into this race, and in doing what I think all of us are trying to do right now is to be there for America at this very defining moment of truth.”

He also clarified that his call for universal health care was not a “Medicare for All” proposal. O’Rourke said the “surest, quickest path” providing health care for everyone would entail enrolling those with little or no insurance in Medicare and allowing those happy with their existing coverage to keep it.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.